"It's the ABA" has become a fatalistic refrain among us, invoked for anything surprising or daunting to cross our path over the 11 months we've spent working to bring a pro basketball team in this sprawling, untidy league to reality. But until tonight -- when we opened our inaugural season, at Quebec City -- that phrase has always pertained to things organizational.
Tonight, the Frost Heaves ran red-white-and-blue into legislated chaos on the basketball court in the form of the ABA's 3-D Rule.
We played a first half of almost perfect basketball against the Kebekwa. Went up 17-4. Locked down their guards, and fronted their bigs into irrelevancy. Then turned our fortunes over to the golden left wrist of Antonio Burks, who dropped 17 points in the second quarter, 15 of them on five gorgeous, parabolic threes. Went up 25 before repairing to the locker room with a 56-33 lead.
Intellectually, we knew it was coming. Other ABA coaches have shared their tales of the tidal-force effect of 3-D, which grants a team that forces a turnover in the backcourt a chance to score an extra point on that possession. At halftime, Coach Voigt talked about it: How "Les Kebs" would press; force a turnover or two; get the crowd into things; and lead the refs into getting less and less inclined to intervene, our NBA-worthy first half be damned.
And still, even knowing it was coming, we could do almost nothing to stop what Quebec City brought to us: Forced turnover upon turnover. Steal, layup, foul. Three and, sometimes, four points per trip. We repulsed one third-quarter run, which had brought Quebec to within three, and worked ourselves back out to a nine-point lead. But then, with two minutes to play in regulation, our hosts edged ahead 91-89, with the sellout crowd of 900 sending waves of sound back and forth across the floor of the little gym in Ste.-Foy. Our Melvin Creddle knocked down two free throws to force the three-minute overtime, but Jamal Ward daggered a 3-pointer with 1:15 left in the extra time, and after a parade of free throws, "les soulevements du sol du au gel" (that's Frost Heaves en francais) were done, 108-100.
Coach V calls it the worst loss he has ever suffered as a head coach. He didn't call timeout while the lead bled away for a reason: Our guys' failure to communicate with one another on the floor has been his biggest disappointment, and he wanted them to riddle out the Quebec press on their own
It's the ABA, guys. After careers spent playing the game in two dimensions, there's now a third we've got to tend to.
As spent as we all are right now -- it's 7 on Saturday a.m., and the players are sleeping -- I'm sure they're universally relieved that they won't have to wait more than 24 hours before getting another shot, tomorrow afternoon at Montreal.