JENNINGS, MO — The Potawatomi Fire suffered their first loss of the 2023 TBL Playoffs, falling to the St. Louis Griffins in overtime by a basket, 106-104, in game one of the TBL Finals.
The reigning TBL MVP Deshawn Munson returned to his hometown of St. Louis and recorded a double-double while leading the Fire with 32 points and 16 rebounds. He also had three assists and a steal. Meanwhile, 2023 MVP candidate Chuck Guy was a stat stuffer with 20 points, six rebounds, seven assists, and six steals. T.J. Maston also had 20 points and added seven rebounds. Ricky Artis II added 12 points with four rebounds and two assists.
Fire head coach Mark Dannhoff commented on the sting of the game one loss. “I think we just didn’t execute down the stretch on either end of the floor. You know, give St. Louis credit. They played extremely well, they made the plays down the stretch that we didn’t but our guys played their hearts out. It’s a long trip, long ways to go, and it’s a long series, so I know my guys will bounce back when they get (to Shawnee on) Monday.”
“Everything the Griffins did we expected and they’re a really good team,” Dannhoff continued. “They’re playing really well. They share the basketball. They’re making shots. They defend hard, and very physical. I thought it was too physical, you know? But the refs called it consistent all night. And we just have to adjust.”
K.D. Moore had seven points with five boards and three assists while the reigning Defensive Player of the Year Lyle Hexom had eight points and six rebounds. Both players battled foul trouble and some curious calls. Moore appeared to give the Fire the lead with 1:10 left in overtime with a baseline drive but was whistled for an offensive foul despite the Griffin player sliding under him after Moore had left his feet. And the St. Louis defender was in the restricted area. Moore was also tagged for a foul when he fell to the floor under the basket, and a Griffin player landed from a rebound and then tripped over Moore, still on the ground.
A competitive back-and-forth first half saw the Fire lead by four (30-26) after the first quarter and five (51-46) at the intermission. The Fire saw their largest of nine points in the third period before the Griffins rallied back, cutting it to one point with a minute to go in the third. But the Fire pushed it back up and led by six points going to the fourth quarter.
The game remained tight in the fourth as the Fire held a narrow edge for most of the quarter until NiSean Rigmaiden hit a three that gave St. Louis a 92-91 lead with three minutes left. The Fire regained the lead and led by four on a Munson basket with 75 seconds to go. But a layup and free throw from Rigmaiden cut it to one and one of two freebies from Miles Nettles tied the game with 33 seconds left. The Fire had a chance to win with the score tied, but a long jumper from Guy missed the mark with two seconds left and the teams went to overtime.
The tight contest continued in the bonus basketball period as the teams traded leads. After a Maston basketball tied the game with just under three minutes left in overtime, the teams would go cold for a few minutes before Timmy Goodwin hit a jumper with 48 seconds to give the Griffins the lead. After a Fire miss that would’ve tied the game again, the Griffins were able to hold on after miscommunication amongst the Fire resulted in the time expiring before a foul could be committed to extend the game.
Both teams shot 41% from the field, but the Griffins held the advantage from outside: 9/36 for St. Louis compared to 3/20 for the Fire. And the Achilles’ heel of the Fire throughout the season once again was a factor as the Fire were outdone from the foul line. The Griffins were nearly perfect, going 21/24, while the Fire shot well at 74% but still missed ten freebies (29/39). Many other stat categories were neck-and-neck with rebounds, assists, turnovers, and fastbreak points all close. The Fire did hold a 56-38 edge in points in the paint, while St. Louis dominated in bench points at 48-17.
Martavian Payne led the Griffins with 30 points. Payne, who was a TBL All-Star for St. Louis this season, had most of his points on two-point field goals as he was just 1/11 from outside. Goodwin also had 18 points as St. Louis had five players in double figures.
On the preparations for game two and going forward, Dannhoff said, “Well, we just got to refocus. Obviously, this one’s gonna hurt a while. We have to learn from it but we can’t have a hangover. We got to take care of our bodies. We’ve got to get fluids and rest and just prepare for the next one. I know these guys will. They’re gonna fight to the very end.”
Game two will be Monday, June 26 at 7 p.m. from FireLake Arena in Shawnee, Okla. Game three if necessary would be on Tuesday, June 27, also at 7 p.m. from FireLake Arena.
Tickets for game two are now available from potawatomifire.com/tickets or StubWire.com. All seats are $10 for adult general admission and $5 for kids 12 and under. Tickets will be available online or at the door. (Game three tickets will go on sale on Monday night pending the game two results.)
Fans can listen to the action on KGFF 100.9 FM /1450 AM / kgff.com, with Chris Cox on the play-by-play call live from St. Louis or Shawnee. You can also watch the games on TBLTV.tv with a paid subscription. Each TBL home team is responsible for the video broadcast of their home games. Cox’s radio call is the audio for the live stream for all Fire home games.
NOTES: While the Fire had missed shots and other opportunities that weren’t seized, the game, which was played at Jennings High School, presented several other challenges which should not have been a factor in a professional championship game. Among those was the shorter 84-foot high school-sized court as opposed to the professional standard 94-foot court. The Fire were denied sufficient shootaround time prior to the game during the day on Friday. The start of the game was delayed because some Griffin players were late to show up. The shot clocks were on the floor in the corners by the team benches rather than in their standard position above the backboard. Fans at some points during the game on or nearly on the court touching the players. Fans interfering with free throws because of no basket stanchion and thus being allowed to stand under the basket in a direct straight line of sight for the Fire free throw shooter. While both teams had to play with the same challenges, this was the first time for the visiting Fire, as opposed to the home team Griffins being used to the setup as it was at least their 12th time playing on this court this season.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: The Central Conference and West Region champion Fire advanced to this round by sweeping their in-state rival Enid Outlaws, then the defending TBL champion Shreveport Mavericks and finally the West Conference champion Seattle SuperHawks with a furious fourth quarter rally and comeback win on Monday night. The Midwest Conference and East region champion St. Louis Griffins reached the championship by defeating the Owensboro Thoroughbreds in the round one play-in game, then swept the Medora Timberjacks in round two. They followed that up by topping the Kokomo Bobkats in three games in a hotly contested conference final round series. Then the surprising Griffins stopped the Albany Patroons in the East Regional Final with a thrilling last-second game three win on Monday night in Albany.