Three Takeaways from Week 2
By John Krolik, @krolikjohn June 28, 2022
1 – The Pargo Brothers could make the Triplets Champions again
Ever since Joe Johnson came into the league in 2019, the Triplets have been a nearly unstoppable force. Johnson has won the MVP award in both of his seasons with the BIG3. The Triplets won the Championship in 2019, his first year in the league. Last season, Triplets made it to the BIG3 Semifinals behind Iso-Joe.
There’s no reason to sound the alarm on Iso-Joe yet, but he hasn’t gotten off to the smoothest start in 2022. In the Triplets’ Week 1 game against power, Johnson scored a league-high 30 points and went 7-8 on shots inside the paint. However, he struggled to find his jumper, and went just 5-17 on shots outside of the key.
In the Triplets’ Week 2 matchup with Aliens, Johnson struggled from the field and finished with 13 points. Despite this, Lisa Leslie’s squad is one of only two undefeated teams through the first two weeks of play, and they’ve outscored their opponents by a league-high 23 points.
How have they been able to do this? With all due respect to the effort and energy Alonzo Gee and Ryan Hollins provide and the phenomenal game-planning done every week by Coach Leslie, the Pargo brothers have been the X-Factor through the Triplets’ first two games.
When I asked former BIG3 Defensive Player of the Year and Trilogy Captain James White about how he felt the team defended Johnson in Week 1, he had mixed feelings, but ultimately said there’s only so much a team can do against a player like Iso-Joe. However, he went on to say that Jeremy Pargo, who finished with 16 points, two three-pointers, and a four-point shot, was “really the difference in the game.”
On Saturday, there was no need for anyone to point out that the Pargo brothers led Triplets to victory. Jeremy scored the team’s first 14 points, and Jannero came off the bench red-hot. When the dust settled on the Triplets’ 50-33 blowout win over Aliens, the brothers combined for 35 points, seven three-pointers, and the aforementioned four-point bucket. Teams will have to continue to pay very close defensive attention to Johnson all season. That means the Pargo brothers will continue to get looks from the outside. If they can consistently convert on those looks the way they did on Sunday, the Triplets could easily become two-time BIG3 Champions.
2 – Jason Richardson Turned Tri State Around
Sometimes it’s hard to quantify the value of a great player and team leader. Other times, you get what happened to Tri-State over the first two weeks.
In Week 1, Tri State team Captain Jason Richardson was absent due to health and safety protocols. Not coincidentally, the team was on the wrong end of a 35-50 blowout loss to Power.
With Richardson back in the lineup in Week 2, Tri State cruised to a 51-35 win over 3’s Company. Richardson’s on-court impact was obvious. He made all eight of his shots from inside the arc, including two spectacular dunks, and tossed in a three-pointer. He also played fantastic defense on Week 1 Player of the Week Michael Beasley, who finished with just 11 points after putting up 26 points in Week 1.
The effects of Richardson’s leadership could be seen as well. No team was crisper over the weekend than Tri State, who consistently punished 3’s Company with well-orchestrated out-of-bounds plays and half-court sets. Over and over again, Tri State got themselves open looks using well-timed screens and clean actions. The ball didn’t stick, all three players were engaged at all times, and seemingly every look Tri State got was opened up for them by a teammate. That’s what having a captain with the experience and mindset of a player like Richardson can bring to a team. If Tri State can continue to execute the way they did Saturday, they’ll be a contender this season.
3 – Enemies vs. Bivouac was an Instant Classic
This was one heck of a ballgame. Gerald Green continues to be a delight to watch. He can touch the ceiling of any building he’s in, his stroke is perfect, he’s never in a hurry, and he has a wonderful ability to find a defense’s weak spot.
If the defense packs the paint, Green steps outside and nails a three. If they sell out on the three-pointer, he floats to the rack for an easy hoop. If they manage to find the happy medium on defense, Green just rises above them and flips in a mid-range shot like he’s tossing a sock in the hamper. He finished Sunday’s game with 25 points on 9-16 shooting from the field and 5-9 shooting from beyond the arc.
Did I mention he had a team-high three assists and game-high nine rebounds on Sunday? Or that, with Coach Gary Payton out due to personal reasons, he had to serve as the de facto Coach? Bivouac’s record may be 0-2, but with Green leading them on the floor along with the rest of their new players (no player on the 2021 Bivouac roster is still with the team this year with the exception of Will Bynum), they’re going to make some noise this season.
With all that said, it was Enemies’ Elijah Stewart who stole the show on Sunday. He finished the first half with 12 points on 4-4 shooting from the floor and 3-3 shooting from deep, and it turned out he was just getting started. In the second half, he almost single-handedly snatched victory from the jaws of defeat for Enemies with some incredible displays of shot-making and athleticism.
He hit a four-point shot to give the Enemies a 39-31 lead. After Bivouac made a run, he threw a monstrous dunk down on the head of seven-footer Jeff Ayres to tie the game at 44-44. As the defender against Corey Brewer on a Bring The Fire Challenge just seconds later, he made a spectacular block to keep the game tied at 44. Finally, with Enemies trailing 46-49, Stewart drained a four-point shot with a hand in his face (it honestly could have been the first five-point shot in BIG3 history) to make the score 50-49 and send the game to overtime. Stewart finished the day with a game-high 27 points, seven rebounds, and three steals, with three of his baskets coming from three-point range and two more coming from the four-point circles. Just incredible stuff.
The game ended on somewhat of an anticlimactic note when Isaiah Austin dunked home a Corey Brewer airball to give the Enemies a 52-49 win, but it’s a play that gets more interesting the more I think about it.
Here’s what happened. Bivouac was down 49-50, meaning a 3-pointer would give them the win. Corey Brewer took the ball for Bivouac, fumbled a bit with his dribble, and pump-faked from beyond the arc. This drew Enemies’ Sek Henry right into his body, and Brewer jumped with just the slightest of leans into Henry in an attempt to draw a foul, heaving the ball towards the basket as almost an afterthought.
In the NBA, this is a good play. Even with the league’s crackdown on shooters attempting to draw fouls after pump-faking their defenders into the air, Brewer would have gotten a whistle a fair amount of the time. That would have sent him to the line for three free throws, giving him the chance to tie the game, take the lead, or flat-out win it. The worst-case scenario would have been not getting the call, in which case the opposing team still would have needed to go 94 feet to get the game-winner.
However, in FIREBALL3, there are three main reasons why this was a bad idea. First of all, FIREBALL3 prides itself on its level of physicality, and you won’t see many ticky-tack fouls initiated by the offensive player called, especially with the game on the line.
Second of all, if the foul had been called, Brewer wouldn’t have gone to the free-throw line. He would have gotten one shot for all three points from the three-point line. For Brewer, a career 28.4% three-point shooter in the NBA, this would likely have been less palatable than taking three free throws.
Finally, and most importantly, the cardinal rule when playing offense in FIREBALL3 is to not turn the ball over around the basket or throw up an air-ball, because that often turns into an automatic bucket for your opponent. With the “no-clear” rule, Isaiah Austin didn’t have to go 94 feet when Brewer’s heave caromed off the backboard and into his hands without touching the rim. He didn’t even have to go four feet. The 7’1 Austin just rose up and jammed it home for the easiest game-winner you’ll ever see.
Again, what Brewer did would have been the right play in nearly every league on the planet, including the NBA, where Brewer played for nearly a decade and a half. It makes sense that his instincts took over with the game on the line. It just wasn’t the right play in FIREBALL3, a format Brewer has only played two games in at this point in his career. At first blush, Brewer’s airball seemed to rob us of a better ending to one of the best games we’ll see all season. However, upon further review, it capped off a great FIREBALL3 game with a demonstration of the adaptations players can make to excel in the FIREBALL3 format.