Canton: The excitement of professional playoff basketball is back in Northeast Ohio.
No, LeBron James did not opt out of his contract with the Miami Heat and return to the Cavaliers.
With the Cavaliers in full rebuild mode because of James’ departure, area fans had the opportunity to cheer on the Cavaliers’ NBA Development League affiliate, the Canton Charge, Thursday night in Game 1 of their three-game semifinal series against the Austin Toros at the Canton Memorial Civic Center.
The 3,180 fans in attendance witnessed the Charge earn a 112-109 victory in overtime with an atmosphere similar (on a smaller scale of course) to that of Quicken Loans Arena with rap and rock music prevalent on the loudspeakers.
Forward Tyrell Biggs led the Charge with 23 points, and guards Kyle Gibson and Antoine Agudio scored 21 points and 20 points, respectively.
Charge guard T.J. Campbell (16 points) made two 3-pointers under defensive pressure in the final nine seconds of the fourth quarter to force overtime.
Canton is in its inaugural season hosting an NBA D-League team, and Charge General Manager Wes Wilcox has been pleased with how the season has transpired.
“The entire experience for us has been incredibly positive,” said Wilcox, who also serves as the director of player personnel with the Cavaliers.
“The people of Canton have really embraced the team. We set out from the beginning of the year with a number of things that we wanted to do and I feel like we have accomplished all of them. The No. 1 thing was that we wanted a high-character group of competitors to come to Canton and compete, and we have done that. We feel great about the roster of 10 guys.
“We also wanted to be able to positively impact the community and we have been able to do that. Whether it is visiting people in the hospital or providing food, such as a soup kitchen, we have been able to do that.”
The Cavalier Girls, the Scream Team and mascots Moondog and Sir C.C. strutted around the court and the arena Thursday to provide additional spice to amp up the fans, who enthusiastically waved wine and gold rally towels.
Canton led 26-22 after one quarter, but trailed 54-46 at halftime and 75-69 after three quarters.
Guard Justin Dentmon led Austin with 24 points and forward Julian Wright scored 23 points. Former Cavaliers guard Ronald “Flip” Murray scored 15 points for the Toros.
The Charge have dealt with an ever-changing roster of players throughout the season. Twenty-five players have scored points for the Charge, who posted a 27-23 regular-season record and then dispatched the Springfield (Mass.) Armor two games to one in a quarterfinal series.
“We have certainly had a revolving door,” Wilcox said. “It has been a challenge for our staff, but it has been fun. Our staff has been excellent. Coach [Alex] Jensen and his staff have done a terrific job.”
Wilcox said helping develop players, whether they were drafted or free-agent signees, was important.
Manny Harris, Luke Harangody, Alan Anderson and Christian Eyenga each played for the Charge at some point this season. Harris and Harangody are currently with the Cavaliers, along with other NBA D-League product Donald Sloan.
“We wanted to help guys get to the NBA,” Wilcox said. “We did that with Alan Anderson. He played eight games with us before he got called up by the Toronto Raptors. We went 7-1 with him and now he is starting for the Raptors. Manny Harris and Luke Harangody are two other good examples. Manny started for the Cavaliers [Wednesday] night. Playing in Canton and getting minutes have helped develop these players.”
Cavaliers coach Byron Scott said after a recent practice he was pleased with the relationship with the Charge.
“It has been everything we hoped it would be and more,” Scott said.
Michael Beaven can be reached at 330-996-3829 or email@example.com. Read the high school blog at http://www.ohio.com/preps. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/MBeavenABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.