In terms of excitement, the American Basketball Assn. championship game more than lived up to expectations Tuesday night as Long Beach's Geno Carlisle made a key game-clinching steal to help give the Jam a 126-123 victory over the Kansas City Knights in front of 3,174 at The Pyramid.
In a game that featured several second-half momentum changes, the Jam rode the scoring of Derrick Dial (30 points), Carlisle (23) and Jack Hartman (22) to keep the Knights from repeating as ABA champions and take home the franchise's first title in the league's fourth season.
"We've been staying together all year and that's how we won this game; playing together," said Long Beach Coach Earl Cureton, who won an NBA title as a player with the Philadelphia 76ers. "This was exciting ... The ABA doesn't have quite the level of talent that you have in the NBA, but we have players who are equivalent to the eighth, ninth and 10th players in the NBA."
One player who wasn't playing to add to his credentials was Long Beach's Dennis Rodman, who grabbed a game-high 14 rebounds in 25 minutes off the bench.
He didn't even know the importance of the game.
"I wasn't worried about winning a championship because I didn't know that the championship was today," said the 42-year-old Rodman.
"I thought this was the beginning of the playoffs. But this is great anyway."
Long Beach led, 58-57, at halftime and then used a zone trap to open up a double-digit lead in the third quarter.
Carlisle scored nine points in the quarter, and the Jam ran off 14 consecutive points to take a 96-86 lead.
In the fourth quarter, Kansas City rallied behind Jamaal Davis, who finished with 28 points, and Cortez Groves, who had 22, to make the score close.
But Long Beach was able to hold off the Knights, thanks to a couple of big shots, including a desperation, banked three-point basket by Dial at the shot-clock buzzer.