The Raleigh Firebirds had a very successful weekend, as they won both of their games, improving their record to 4-2. They're now 3rd in the Southeast Conference of the TBL, behind only the Carolina Coyotes (5-1) and the Tallahassee Southern Kings (3-1).
The Firebirds' first game of the weekend was against the Gulf Coast Lions at home, a team that only came into town with six active players. However, those six players gave their all against the Firebirds, causing power forward Darius Leonard to say they were a "scrappy bunch of guys." Their center, Isaac Freeman, stood 7'3", and looked like he would be a handful for the Firebirds' big men. This was not the case, as Freeman would finish the game with 8 points, 15 rebounds, 3 steals, 3 blocks, 4 turnovers, and 3 fouls, while shooting 37.5% from the field. "He was tough, but a little bit soft," said 6'10" Andre Pierce about Freeman.
"We played bigger, harder, stronger, faster."
The Firebirds other big challenge that game was Tyc Snow, who looked to be around 5'6". However, he came into the game with a hot hand, finishing with 40 points, shooting 13 of 25 from three. He also grabbed 10 rebounds in total, not letting his small frame hinder him. Snow is a good ball handler, making him very difficult to guard. "He's a big time shooter in the league," said Leonard. "So we expected him to make shots. We just didn't expect him to get that hot."
The Firebirds are not a first-quarter team, and it often takes them a bit to get going. This game was no different, as the Lions came out by making their shots, and the Firebirds did not. The Firebirds were still able to keep the game close, but halfway through the first quarter, it was 9-10 in favor of the Lions. At the end of the first quarter, the score was 28-30. Then, the Firebirds stepped it up, and by halftime, they had a 14-point lead. This was in no small part due to rookie James McKelvin, who hustled, made his shots, and kept stealing the ball from the Lions. McKelvin would later be named the player of the game after accumulating 17 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, and 3 steals with no turnovers.
In the second half, it was more of the same. The Firebirds continued to impose their will against the Lions, as Leonard, the heart of the team and a certified double-double, finished the game with 17 points, 16 rebounds, and 3 steals. Daequon Antoine finished the game with 20 points, and the Firebirds cruised to a 123-107 win. There were a few moments towards the end where Snow would just not stop making threes, but the game was already decided by then.
Towards the end of the game, with around 10 seconds left, point guard Will McNeil had the ball in his hands, and all his teammates were telling him to dunk it. McNeil rose up for a dunk... and then decided to simply lay it in at the horn. "I'll get you guys a dunk," said McNeil postgame. "I'm just going to leave it at that."
Their next game was against the Huntsville Hurricanes, who's record is now 2-4. For most of the game, the Firebirds had a decently sized lead, but it wasn't big enough that the Hurricanes couldn't come back and steal a win. However, the Hurricanes only had the lead for 29 seconds, when the score was 6-9. There were only three lead changes throughout the game, all early on, and the Firebirds cruised to a 128-117 win.
Antoine and Marques Sumner both had great games against Huntsville, with Antoine dropping 30 points and Sumner with 25 points, 7 rebounds, and 7 assists. Antoine is averaging 22 points per game this season, while Sumner is averaging 19 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 5.2 assists per game. Leonard continued his hot streak with his fifth double-double in five home games, with 19 points and 14 rebounds. For the season, Leonard is averaging 15.7 points and 13.5 rebounds, and is third in the entire TBL in rebounding. There's no reason Leonard can't become an All-Star with these incredible numbers, but he isn't worried about that. "I'm just going out there, not really worrying about being an All-Star," he said. "I'm just trying to win a championship, doing everything I can to put my team in a position to win a championship."
If Leonard can help lead the Firebirds to a championship, then he and some of his teammates may find opportunities beyond the TBL; perhaps in the NBA G-League!