Blizzard 54-33 (2-4)

Muskies 69-13 (4-2)

Score (click for boxscore) Game MVP Hi Points Hi Rebounds Hi Assists
1. Muskies 132, Blizzard 99 Charles Barkley 32 Kevin Willis 16 Charles Barkley 12 Clyde Drexler
2. Muskies 130, Blizzard 106 Kiki Vandeweghe 35 Kiki Vandeweghe 14 Kevin Duckworth 10 John Lucas
3. Muskies 131, Blizzard 124 Robert Parish 35 Robert Parish 16 Robert Parish 12 Rickey Green
4. Blizzard 126, Muskies 112 Tom Chambers 29 Vandeweghe/Barkley 21 Charles Barkley  9 Clyde Drexler
5. Blizzard 132, Muskies 131 Bill Cartwright 42 Kiki Vandeweghe 19 Charles Barkley 10 S.Threatt/J.Lucas
6. Muskies 132, Blizzard 127 Kiki Vandeweghe 51 Kiki Vandeweghe  9 Charles Barkley 14 Johnny Moore
Minnesota wins series 4-2

Game 1 – Buffalo’s road to relevance in the VBA continued with a trip to the Eastern Conference Semifinals, where the task at hand was daunting — turn back a Charles Barkley-powered Minnesota Muskies squad, that in capturing 69 wins during the regular season, established itself as the odds-on favorite to come out of the West as a finals participant and give the nearly flawless Fresno Stars a legitimate title challenge. Suffice to say as it entered Game 1 in Minnesota, the Blizzard, who handed the Muskies one of its rare defeats this season, would need an A-game from its entire rotation, especially as coaches chose the opening battle to sit three key rotation players (Johnny Moore, Bill Cartwright and small-forward reinforcement Chris McNealy) to reconcile its usage limits for the entire series. Buffalo’s hopes to steal a road win in the first contest got off to a rocky start and only progressed downward. The Muskies accounted for 18 of the first 26 points scored, and by the end of the first quarter, Minnesota held a commanding 39-23 lead as Barkley and Kiki Vandeweghe each poured in 12 points to outscore the entire Buffalo squad for the period. The Blizzard never really threatened from there. The Muskies outscored Buffalo by three in each of the middle periods and then won the fourth quarter 25-14 in waltzing to a 132-99 victory. Barkley, the game MVP, finished with 29 points, 16 rebounds, six assists and, for good measure, three blocked shots. Vandeweghe ended with 23 points. John Lucas added 23 points and eight assists for Minnesota in haunting his former Buffalo squad that could have used him in this game. Two seasons ago, the then-woeful Blizzard, desperate for frontcourt help, had shipped Lucas to the Muskies for the since-departed Randy Breuer but that trade was made before Karl Malone (18 points) arrived when Buffalo won the lottery a few months later. Buffalo, which after trailing 8-2 in the opening moments against the Muskies never came remotely close to pulling even, was stung by a dismal performance from the mercurial Tom Chambers, who logged under 13 minutes. The Blizzard’s leading scorer picked up two fouls eight minutes into the contest, remained in constant foul trouble, and accounted for just one of three total points the rest of the way before ultimately fouling out. Chambers’ woes made it difficult for Buffalo to make a serious charge, even despite a worthy showing from center Kevin Willis who led all scorers with 32 points and added 11 rebounds. Clyde Drexler could only manage six points for the Blizzard and Buffalo was outshot 55 percent to 42 percent by its hosts. 

Game 2 – Buffalo Blizzard players and staff were licking their wounds as they got set to face Minnesota in game two of the West semifinals following a thorough 132-99 dismantling at the hands of the Muskies in the opener. Returning its most optimal lineup after sitting three key players in the first game, the Blizzard sought to change the script and even the series. And just following the tipoff, Buffalo looked to be battling mano a mano against Minnesota during a first quarter that featured eight lead changes and five ties, before the Blizzard inched ahead by the end of the period 31-30. The Muskies responded with a blazing 9-0 run to start the second quarter kicked off by a Danny Ainge three-pointer in the opening seconds. In the first five and a half minutes of the period, Minnesota pieced together a 21-8 run and claimed a 75-58 lead at halftime that thoroughly demoralized the visitors. The Muskies held serve in the third and fourth quarters, outscoring Buffalo in both closing periods and when it was all said and done had outclassed their visitors once again by a final of 130-106 to assume a commanding 2-0 lead in the series. Minnesota’s Kiki Vandeweghe was the clear MVP with 35 points (14 of 25 shooting) and 18 of those came in the decisive second period. Buffalo’s aggregate front court by contrast was unable to come remotely close to measuring up: the triumvirate of Tom Chambers (15 points), Karl Malone (10) and Kevin Willis (2) was outscored by Vandeweghe alone, 35-29. Clyde Drexler led Buffalo with 20 points, but the Blizzard roster was unable to afford such a second straight subpar showing against this fierce and deep Muskies lineup. John Lucas at point sparked the Muskies for the second straight contest, this time with 18 points 10 assists and three steals. Charles Barkley and Buck Johnson, the latter sizzling off the bench in just 14 minutes, each added 16. Ainge finished with 11 points and 11 rebounds including that opening second-quarter three after which Minnesota never trailed again.  The Blizzard, competing in its first playoffs in franchise history, will need a pair of outstanding performances at home if it hopes to turn these conference semifinals around but for now seems to have run into a buzzsaw that shows no signs of turning off. The Muskies in trailing in only one quarter out of eight (and that by just a narrow first-period margin) have flexed their muscles, looked every bit the role of championship contender, and thoroughly dominated this series as it shifts East to Buffalo.   

Game 3 – Buffalo returned home for game 3 hungry for a win after dropping two games in Minnesota. The Blizzard offense came out hot in the first quarter scoring 40 points behind Clyde Drexler’s 11 and Tom Chambers’ 8. Trailing 40-36 after one, the Muskies defense tightened, and they outscored the Blizzard 29-24 in the second quarter to take a 1-point halftime lead, 65-64. The teams traded baskets in the 3rd quarter dominated by Robert Parish’s 15 points and Karl Malone’s 12 points in the quarter. Buffalo won the 3rd quarter 33-32 and the game was tied 97-97 going into the final period. The Muskies came out hot behind great point guard play from Michigan alum Rickey Green to take a 108-100 lead. Buffalo weathered the storm and tied the game at 112-112 midway through the 4th. With the pressure mounting, and both teams in foul trouble (Buffalo 35 fouls and Minnesota 30 fouls) things tightened up for the next 4 minutes with the teams trading baskets and the game remained deadlocked at 118 with 2 minutes to play. Minnesota took a 4-point lead but with a minute to play Johnny Moore nailed a clutch 3-pointer to cut the lead to one, 124-123. Both teams failed to convert on their next possession. With the Muskies needing a hoop, they went to The Chief with 20 seconds left in the game. Posting up Bill Cartwright, Parish was clobbered and nailed 2 free throws, giving the Muskies a 126-123 lead. The Blizzard answered with Terry Teagle converting 1-2 from the charity stripe with 17 seconds to go. Needing to foul, the Blizzard sent Green to the line and he calmly hit both shots. Drexler launched a 3-pointer on the Blizzard’s next possession, but it was off the mark and the Muskies prevailed from the line winning game 3, 131-124. Parish was the game MVP with 35 points and 16 rebounds. Charles Barkley added 25 points and 14 rebounds and Kiki Vandeweghe chipped in 26 points. The Blizzard were led by a strong game off the bench from Cartwright, 24 points and 7 rebounds. Drexler and the Mailman added 25 and 20 points respectively. The Blizzard will try to hold home court in game 4 with the Muskies up 3 games to 0.

Game 4 – Trailing three games to none, Buffalo relied on its potent 1-2 punch of Clyde Drexler (7 pts) and Tom Chambers (8 pts) in the 1st. Minnesota countered with Robert Parish (8), Kiki Vandeweghe (7) and Roy Tarpley (8) off the bench to take a 29-28 lead after one quarter. Things continued to go the Muskies way in the second as they opened up a 64-60 lead at the half led by Vandeweghe’s 18 and Tarpley’s 17. With the season on the line, the Blizzard stormed out of the half and dominated the 3rd quarter, 35-25 behind strong play from  Chambers opening up a 6-point lead. Not wanting to play a game 5, Charles Barkley stepped up for the Muskies and poured in 25 points in the second half. However, it was not enough. The Blizzard maintained a comfortable lead throughout the second half after Parish and Tarpley fouled out and went on to a 126-114 victory to avoid the sweep. Chambers led the Blizzard attack with 27 points and 9 rebounds. Drexler and Kevin Willis add 19 and Karl Malone controlled the boards with 15. The Muskies were led by a monster game from Sir Charles, 29 points and 21 rebounds. A poor shooting Vandeweghe added 29 points on 27 shots. The series returns to The Barn in Minnesota with the Muskies leading 3 games to 1.

Game 5 – Buffalo’s first playoff-qualifying season extended into a 92nd game after the Blizzard staved off both elimination and being swept out of the west semifinals, with a tight Game 4 win over the Minnesota Muskies. As it traveled back to Minnesota for Game 5, the otherwise conservative Blizzards staff made its first real desperate starting lineup adjustment this entire season, waiting until the 93rd game. Having been blown out of the Muskies’ building (along with the howling Minnesota wind) in the two prior playoff games (and quite swiftly both times at that), Buffalo’s staff recognized the second unit needed show major signs of improvement if it was to have any chance in a third semis game on the road. For just the second time all season long, it inserted Bill Cartwright into the starting lineup, and relegated Kevin Willis (who started all 81 games he had played in the regular season) to a sixth-man role for the first time. Cartwright was enlisted to help slow down the Muskies’ frontcourt of Kiki Vandeweghe, Charles Barkley and the Chief, Robert Parish. The strategy seemed to have merit early in the game, anyway: Willis stepped off the bench for nine of his 13 total points in the second quarter as the Blizzard tried to keep pace, but it was still not nearly enough to prevent the Muskies from grabbing a commanding 66-55 lead at the half. And Vandeweghe and Barkley, who have both been all-world in this series, led the way again early; Vandeweghe already had 20 points at intermission and Barkley provided 14. Vandeweghe added 14 more points in the third quarter as Minnesota outscored Buffalo 37-32: By the end of three Vandeweghe had 34 points total and the Muskies had won the first three quarters for a comfortable 103-87 lead headed into the fourth quarter. With the teams exchanging baskets back and forth in the early part of the fourth quarter, the Muskies and their fans had sights set on the West finals, boasting a 118-104 lead with 5:36 in the fourth following a Vandeweghe perimeter shot. What occurred the next four plus minutes was stunning. Led mainly by Cartwright and Buffalo point guard Johnny Moore, the Blizzard forced numerous turnovers off the press, while the Muskies inexplicably fouled when Buffalo mounted a fast-paced attack. That slowed the clock and enabled an astonishing 21-6 run in just over four minutes where Buffalo converted numerous free throws. The run was capped by a Sedale Threatt layup off the pick and roll with 56 seconds left in the fourth that gave Buffalo its first lead of the game, 125-124. Barkley immediately answered with a dunk but then Cartwright was fouled by Danny Ainge with 37 seconds left and converted two free throws, lifting Buffalo ahead again 127-126. With just over 20 seconds left, Vandeweghe missed a jumper and instantly fouled Chambers who converted both free throws for the 129-126 lead. Another Barkley basket from Lucas with about 11 seconds left again reduced the Minnesota deficit to one. The Muskies immediately fouled Karl Malone with about five seconds remaining. Malone converted the first but when the Mailman failed to deliver with the second, Tom Chambers tipped in the followup, catching the Muskies napping at the worst possible moment. With Buffalo ahead by four, Vandeweghe heaved in a three pointer near the buzzer but the Blizzard had pulled off the astonishing 132-131 comeback. Cartwright sparkled in the starting role and was MVP with 29 points on 11 for 16 shooting. He had nine points during the fourth quarter as Buffalo rallied furiously. Vandeweghe and Barkley finished with 42 and 29 points respectively. The series, shaping up to be a VBA classic, moves back to Buffalo for game six.

Game 6 – Minnesota traveled to Buffalo for game 6 in an effort to close out the Blizzard after seeing a 3-0 series lead cut to 3-2, including an instant classic one point road win by the Blizzard in game 5. With John Lucas sidelined, Minnesota was relying on Muskies legend, Rickey Green, and Danny Ainge to manage the point and try and replace Lucas’ 14 points and 9 assists per game in the series. Buffalo opened game 6 strong and built a 17-10 lead midway through the first.  After the media timeout, the Muskies answered and knotted the game up at 18. An evenly matched first quarter concluded with the Blizzard holding a slight 1-point lead. Bill Cartwright and Karl Malone paced the Blizzard with 8 points each. Kiki Vandeweghe added 12 for the Muskies. Blizzard 33 Muskies 32. The Blizzard came out hot in the second and opened up a quick 8-point lead. The Muskies fought back and cut the lead to two with four minutes left in the half.  The Blizzard answered with a flurry and built a 12-point lead.  Feeling the game slipping away, the Muskies dug deep for the final 90 seconds of the half capped off by a Vandeweghe 3-pointer at the buzzer to cut the lead to 6. Vandeweghe’s 25 led Minnesota while the Blizzard were led by Cartwright’s 10 points. Clyde Drexler, in foul trouble for most of the half, was held to 4 points. Blizzard 71 Muskies 65. The third quarter started with Buffalo continuing to control the game and they opened up an 11-point lead in the first 4 minutes. Buffalo maintained that 11-point cushion with 5 minutes left in the quarter. Again, with the game slipping away, Minnesota, behind Vandeweghe (38 points through 3Q) answered with a strong 19-10 run to end the quarter and cut the lead to two points.  Blizzard 101 Muskies 99. The teams traded baskets to start the 4th quarter with the Muskies still unable to take their first lead in this one.  With the Blizzard answering every Muskies run, Ainge and Vandeweghe took matters into their own hands. Ainge, assisted on three straight baskets, two by Vandeweghe, and the Muskies finally took their first lead of the game at 111-109.  The Blizzard answered and reclaimed the lead 118-115 with five minutes to go. A 8-4 run put the Muskies back on top 123-122 with 3 minutes to go.  Defense tightened up and both teams went scoreless for the next 90 seconds until the Mailman’s monster dunk gave the Blizzard a 1-point lead with 1:22 left in the game.  With one minute to go, Vandeweghe answered with his 50th point of the game and a 125-124 Muskies advantage.  A Drexler missed shot and a Vandeweghe free throw extended the lead to 2 with 28 seconds left in the game. Down 2, the Blizzard went inside to Karl Malone who missed a short jumper defended by Manute Bol. The Blizzard quickly fouled Rickey Green who hit the first free throw to give the Muskies a 127-124 lead.  Trying to ice the game, Green missed the second but the Round Mound of Rebound, Charles Barkley, secured the miss and was fouled. Barkley went 1-2 from the line to put the Muskies up 128-124 with 19 seconds to go. After a quick timeout, the Blizzard went inside to Malone who was fouled by Barkley. Malone, nailed the first, cutting the lead to 3. Malone’s second was off the rim but grabbed by Tom Chambers who quickly kicked it out to an open Karl Malone for a corner 3 … Minnesota holding its breath and praying the missed free throws down the stretch would not haunt them … saw Malone’s shot hit off the rim and grabbed by Ainge, who was fouled and hit 2 free throws putting the Muskies up 130-125 with 5 seconds to go.  The Blizzard called timeout and quickly answered with a Drexler jumper to cut the lead to 3. Unable to force a turnover in the final 3 seconds, Ainge, a 90 percent free throw shooter, was fouled and iced the game with 2 makes. The Muskies hold on 132-127 to win the series in another classic. Minnesota was led by Vandeweghe with 51 points. Barkley filled up the stat sheet with a near triple double, 28 points, 9 rebounds and 9 assists. Ainge and Green filled in admirably for Lucas at point guard combining for 21 points and 21 assists. Buffalo was led by Cartwright 21, Chambers 20, Malone 19 and Moore 8 points and 14 assists. Drexler, in foul trouble most of the game, finished with 11 points in 16 minutes. Congratulations to a strong Blizzard team that will remain a force in the VBA for the foreseeable future. Vandeweghe was named series MVP averaging 34.3 ppg, including 44 in game 5 and 51 in series clinching game 6.