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Firebirds Take Down Carolina Coyotes in 121-108 Win

The Raleigh Firebirds defeated the Carolina Coyotes on Friday, May 7th, avenging their previous losses to them this season. The Firebirds and Coyotes have now played each other five times this season, and after this win, the Firebirds are 2-3 against their Carolina rival.

The Firebirds came out with a starting five of Darius Leonard, Matt McClain, Desmond Jackson, Daequon Antoine, and Marques Sumner. This lineup featured two big men and McClain, a small forward who often plays like he's a power forward/center. In theory, this should have been a bruising lineup that could easily destroy the Coyotes inside the paint, especially given that no one on the Coyotes roster is taller than 6'7".

While the Firebirds won the tip and Leonard make his signature hook shot to open up the game, the Coyotes scored nine straight points to make it 9-2 early on. The Coyotes played very physical defense within the paint to compensate, and in a half court setting, it was difficult for the Firebirds to convert. Fortunately, they were able to make up for it with transition buckets. The Firebirds had very active hands on defense, which led to multiple transition dunks, like this one:

The Coyotes don't have a deep bench, as their roster for this game only featured eight players. However, each of these players played very good basketball, and at the end of the first quarter, the score was 25-25. There was a bit of a scoring drought to start the second, but it soon picked up. After some amazing defense by Jackson, the Firebirds started a fast break, which ended with a Jackson alley-oop dunk. Check it out:

This was soon countered by the Coyotes, who threw their own amazing alley-oop that left the crowd completely silenced. By halftime, the Firebirds were leading 52-48.

The game remained close in the third quarter, as both teams continued to trade buckets. McClain got hot during this time, and made shot after shot. Many of his attempts were mid-range shots, or layups as he used his athleticism to barrel towards the lane. McClain would finish the game with 25 points and 6 rebounds, and his presence was felt all throughout the game.

The Coyotes stubbornly refused to give up in the third, as Quincy Washington, the team's leading scorer, continued to make tough basket after tough basket. Sumner, who started the game and would finish with 12 points, had to come out with 5:25 left in the third because he picked up his third foul. By the end of the third, the Firebirds clung to a one point lead, 79-78.

The Firebirds took control as soon as the 4th quarter started, with Will McNeil Jr drilling a three. Soon after, Shaq Dance drilled another, and then Antoine hit a nice floater. The Firebirds continued to get defensive stops, in large part due to Jackson. The 6'11" center was an intimidating post presence, and as mentioned earlier, the Coyotes had no one on their team taller than 6'7". Jackson would finish the game with six blocks, and even more defensive stops. Six!

Bad shot selection didn't help the Coyotes case when it came to digging themselves out of the hole the Firebirds had put them in.

Let's play smart, please play smart!

In just 1 minute and 55 seconds, the score had gone from 79-78 to 87-78. However, the Coyotes soon got back into it by making a few easy layups. Both teams would trade baskets, and McClain would hit a falling and-one with 5:01 left in the 4th. Soon after, the Firebirds got a defensive stop on the other end. Sumner, now back in the game, went up for the rebound, but the Coyotes didn't easily let him get the ball. "It was more than Robert {Colon, the team's point guard}," said Sumner. "I was getting hacked, I was getting fouled. I got through it and I think we got on the break and got a dunk out of that. Just being strong with the ball, that's all."

After another nice lefty layup by Antoine, Shaq Dance through down arguably the most impressive dunk of the game. After getting a pass on a fast break, Dance rose up and threw down this monster dunk, setting the bench into a frenzy:

Because of the 10 point lead or so that the Firebirds had built up, the Coyotes were forced to foul, and foul they did. The last 1:30 or so of the game was dedicated to free throw and free throw after free throw. The Coyotes shot a few, but the Firebirds shot and made the lion share of their's, increasing their lead to 11. Toward the end of the game, the shot clock was running out, so McClain had to put up a shot. It missed, and one would have expected that the Coyotes would have grabbed the rebound, run out the clock, and the game would have been over.

Instead, Sumner went up for the rebound, got it, and with no hesitation laid it in. There were only four seconds left, and the Coyotes weren't happy about this decision. One of the Coyotes threw the ball at Sumner, who promptly threw it back. A little scuffle emerged, but both teams did stay on their benches (for the most part). Technical fouls were assessed to Mason Harrell of the Coyotes and Sumner.

This may have seemed like a petty move at the end of a game, but Sumner had a really good reason for why he did what he did. "In this league, we play by points, so if we tie with South Carolina record wise, they go by how many points we won by and how many points they won by. So, we play until the buzzer goes off. Every point matters. I don't care what they {the Coyotes} say, what the refs say, I scored a bucket, and it's on the stat sheet."

"The big man threw the ball at me, so I threw it back at him like anyone else's reaction."

When given context, it makes perfect sense why Sumner did what he did. After scoring that put-back, the final score was 121-108, and the Firebirds won by 13 points. This game improved the Firebirds record to 9-8, while the Coyotes' record dropped to 10-8. The two teams have very similar records, and Sumner is right; every point counts. It's very likely these two teams will see each other in the playoffs.

"It was a good game," said Sumner. "We played as a team (finally) and made some shots at the end."

"We played tough and we played together," said McClain.

With luck this game will set a precedent for the remainder of the regular season and the playoffs, where the Firebirds will continue to find success. If you want to see the Firebirds play live, they have a game this Sunday, May 15th, at home against the Tampa Bay Titans. Before that, on Friday, they'll be playing the Coyotes in a rematch.

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