Photography by Gary Lloyd McCullough.

Photography by Gary Lloyd McCullough.

The Jacksonville Giants avenged their regular season loss to the DMV Warriors with a Final Four victory by a final score of 95-88. The Giants will advance to the ABA National Championship where they will face Chicago’s Windy City Groove in a best of three series beginning on Friday night.

After watching the high-scoring Warriors defeat the #1 ranked Laredo Swarm by 40 points on Monday, the Giants knew they would have their hands full. But, it was the Giants’ great defense and clutch free throw shooting that would prove to make the difference. The red-hot shooting of Giants’ perennial all-star guard, Maurice “the Reece” Mickens, also proved too much for DMV, as Mickens finished with a postseason-high 37 points.

The game featured two of the ABA’s best with DMV pushing the Giants the entire evening. Jacksonville jumped out to an early 14-7 lead midway through the first quarter as the defense kept the Warriors in check with an effective half court zone. Throughout the first half, Mickens was unstoppable on offense, pushing the Giants lead to double digits before the Warriors went on a run to tie the game at the intermission, 42-42.

Early in the second half, former ABA MVP and Giants 7’0″ Center, Jermaine Bell, and 2016 All-Star and 6’9″ power forward, Elijah Smith, sparked the Giants with a 14-4 run to take a double-digit lead. Bell was second on the team with 18 points and Smith contributed 11, along with great defense in the low post.

DMV never gave up and went on an early scoring run of their own midway through the fourth quarter, cutting the lead to just four points, 75-71. The Giants were able to settle down and keep the lead as the game headed down the final stretch. Mickens continued to direct the offense from his point guard position to keep the Giants one step ahead of the Warrior defense.

Following four intense quarters of play, a major turning point came with four minutes left in the fourth quarter. As DMV trailed the Giants 79-73, the Warriors were called for a technical foul which put the Giants back to the free throw line. Mickens landed both free throw shots to extend the lead to 81-73. Moments later Mickens was fouled driving into the paint and converted on two more free throws to make it 83-73. DMV had another miscue which once again put Jacksonville back to the free throw line on their next offensive possession, with Calvin Warner, the eleven-year overseas veteran, converting both attempts.

As the final minutes ticked away the Giants hit three more free throws to make it 88-80. DMV cut the deficit to 88-83 with under two minutes to play. The Warriors opted to keep fouling the Giants as a strategy to regain offensive possession. However, the Giants continued to make crucial free throws seal the win.

“Two more to go,” said Warner, who played valuable minutes down the stretch and finished with 10 points on the night.

This will mark the Giants’ fourth ABA championship series appearance in their six-year history. The team won back-to-back national championships in 2012 and 2013 against the South Carolina Warriors and the Dallas Vandals, respectively. Then, in 2014, they were defeated by the Shreveport Mavericks.

“We are excited to be moving into the championship series,” said Giants head coach Kevin Waters. “Our guys have dedicated themselves all year for this opportunity.”‎

“This is the greatest feeling,” said assistant coach Jerry Williams. “I am so proud of the guys for all the hard work they have put in to make it to the championship finals. The city of Jacksonville deserves another championship from the Giants and we are going to do everything to make that happen,” added Williams.

The Giants arguably played the toughest schedule by far in the ABA this season, having played 9 regular season games against teams in this year’s finals, and more than half of their 30 games were against top ten ranked opponents.

After the game, Giants’ owner Ron Sholes said that “this has probably been our most rewarding season thus far. The team has faced great adversity and continue to persevere.” When asked about what he thought has made the difference in the Giants’ three victories in the Finals, Sholes said “great team basketball. Everyone is playing unselfish basketball and they really want to bring the championship back to Jacksonville, more than anything.”

The #3 ranked Giants will now turn their attention toward a Championship showdown against the #5 ranked Windy City Groove starting this Friday in a best of three-weekend series. Windy City defeated the #2 ranked Miami Midnights in the other semifinal game Wednesday night, in what many in the ABA viewed as an upset‎.