LOS ANGELES -- One thing is almost always true of the best, most memorable sporting events, regardless of the level of play or specific sport being played: Both teams truly believe they have the game won, even when they don’t.
That was the case at the first of two Drew League semifinal games Friday night in South L.A., where a team led by Pistons forward Austin Daye and Nuggets first-round selection Kenneth Faried gave up a 16-point fourth-quarter lead to Team C.O.A., featuring Clippers forward Craig Smith and Hornets guard Marcus Banks.
After allowing C.O.A. to make a dramatic late-game run that was boosted by a number of steals from the crafty Banks, Daye fought back and made an isolation 18-footer from the right corner to give his team, "Hank’s Blazers," a five-point lead with 1:01 to go. But Banks quickly went down the opposite end of the court and converted a layup to make it a 72-69 game, then stole the ball from Daye at the top of the key on the other end and made another layup to make it 72-71.
Then, with 1.9 seconds to play and the Blazers up two, 73-71, Banks went to the free-throw line and calmly made two free throws to send the game into overtime, the first such extra period of the 2011 Drew League playoffs at Colonel Leon H. Washington Park.
In the overtime, C.O.A. scored first, but the teams traded baskets. And, when Banks called a timeout with the ball in his team’s possession with the score tied 77-77 and 7.7 seconds left, he danced happily to the music blasting out of the speakers as he walked off the court and into his team’s huddle.
He didn’t score. The game went into double overtime.
In the second extra period, the Blazers made four straight free throws to take an 81-77 lead and Faried got the game-clinching rebound of a Daye missed free throw on the back end of a big one-and-one as the Blazers won, 86-79, to clinch a spot in Saturday’s championship game.
“We did a good job holding them off the whole game and making good runs, but at the end we kind of unraveled a little bit,” Daye said afterward. “I hit that shot with like a minute left [in regulation] and I thought the game was over, but they got a couple steals and we turned the ball over a couple times, so they got back in the game.
“In the end, we did a good job of holding our composure.”
The underlying story was a hot topic: C.O.A., Smith’s team he personally funded all summer long, was without three players who had left early to begin their overseas seasons. With that, Smith brought in Cleveland Cavaliers center Ryan Hollins to the Drew to suit up for his squad in the semifinal.
But league rules prohibit players who have not appeared in regular-season games to play in the playoffs, so Hollins was not allowed to dress for the game. Blazers’ coach Rodrick Shannon made the final decision just before tip-off.
“We got cheated,” Smith said after the game, shortly after heated words were exchanged between players from both teams just outside the gymnasium. “I didn’t really have who I needed to have because of everybody going overseas so we tried to get an opportunity to play an L.A. guy, like Ryan Hollins, and they don’t let him play.
“They should give people a fair chance, and I feel like we got cheated.”
The rules governing playoff appearances were bent some last weekend, when Toronto Raptors forward Julian Wright was allowed to play for "Young Grangers" despite not playing in any regular-season games. Smith referenced that in speaking after Friday’s game.
“It bothers me a little bit that they didn’t want to see us win because I put my team in myself this time and I gave back to the community myself to reach back out,” Smith said. “It’s something that I wanted to do for a long time.
“But that kills me, man. That kills me.”
Hollins, a Pasadena native and former UCLA starter, sat on the C.O.A. bench and watched, just as Washington Wizards guard John Wall did last week, when another opposing coach decided not to let him play, citing an increased risk of losing.
“I didn’t allow Ryan Hollins to play because he could change things,” Shannon said. “Why make it harder on myself? My job is to make things easier, not harder.”
In the second semifinal, "L.A. Unified" overcame a double-digit deficit to beat "Problems" with a dominant 37-point third quarter.
Former NBA point guards Bobby Brown and Marcus Williams led L.A. Unified, along with Denver Nuggets first-rounder Jordan Hamilton and his brother, former University of Miami forward Gary Hamilton.
A Hamilton dunk at the halftime buzzer set Unified up at the break and they took their first lead halfway through the third quarter, opening up a double-digit lead in the fourth on a Brown 20-footer.
Williams closed out the game, 96-83, with an alley-oop to Brown from nearly halfcourt with seconds left.
“We got so much talent on the same team, playing together and playing smart,” Brown said. “So it’s kinda hard to beat us. “We got more than one option on our team, and that’s why we won tonight.”
The final between L.A. Unified and Hank’s Blazers is scheduled for 3 p.m. Saturday at Washington Park, moved from a later time because of Brown, who has an evening flight to Germany, where he’ll play the upcoming season. For the first time in the Drew League’s history, they will charge a $5 entry fee for all attendees.