It may have been meaningless as far as postseason seeding was concerned, but there was no lack of urgency or desire from either side as the Salem Capitals capped off the regular season at home on Sunday with a double overtime win against the Seattle Super Hawks.
The 144-141 win was the second in a row for the Capitals over the West’s top-seed heading into the playoffs, and came largely on the back of Allen Billinger Jr.’s career-high 42 points.
Billinger shot 56% from the floor, going 7-for-11 on 3-pointers and hit all seven of his attempts from the free throw line, but it was the fourth quarter where he shined. Billinger scored 21 in the final frame of regulation, matching his per game average for the season.
“I know my teammates look for me to be aggressive when it gets down to punch time like that,” Billinger said. “In that moment it just feels like I’m back outside playing in the park. I’m not really worried about the stats, I’m just worried about are we playing our best basketball and if it’s me scoring the ball, that’s just how it is.”
And the Capitals needed every point from Billinger.
Seattle had swarmed back from a 17-point deficit, including a 12-0 run to close the second and open the third quarters to tie the game, and took a four-point lead in the fourth.
Salem’s second leading scorer on the season with 18.9 points per game, Whitfield’s sixth foul early in the fourth quarter took a large piece of the Salem offense off the floor. And the Capitals were already missing their other two guys that averaged double-digits on the season in Isaiah Genty and Mauricio Smith.
“I know I have to be more aggressive,” Billinger said. “That doesn’t mean shoot the ball all of the time, but it does mean look for my shot. So that’s what I did today.”
While Billinger was the spark for the Salem offense in the fourth quarter, it was Whitfield for much of the start. He had 25 points in the first half as the Capitals came out of the gates hot.
In the first quarter, they shot 75% from the field and 7-for-8 on 3-pointers. It was a massive turnaround from their last game, a 123-110 loss at Vancouver on Friday, where Salem shot 17% from 3, and 42% from the field.
In the first half, Whitfield was 9-for-11 from the field and 4-for-4 on 3s, while as a team the Capitals shot 61%.
“I knew that we were missing a couple of our key players in the starting line up, so I knew I had to be aggressive,” Whitfield said. “That kind of set the tone.”
Whitfield was one of seven players that had their day cut short in a game with 65 personal fouls called, and a few that didn’t get whistled.
His sixth came on an offensive foul after an apparent missed call when Whitfield looked to be tripped by the Seattle defender.
“It’s hard not to get frustrated, but we do a good job of coming together as a team and kind of talking our players out of being frustrated,” Whitfield said. “But it’s hard. We have four players foul out, so that’s 24 fouls.”
Whitfield was the first of four Capitals to foul out, including Billinger in the second overtime, while the Super Hawks had three.
Even with Billinger out for the final minute and change, Salem was able to outscore Seattle to close out the game.
“We have a good bench, we have good starters, we have everything,” Capitals head coach Kevin Johnson Jr. said. “I just feel like our team is pretty deep. So with that being said, it’s always next person up mentality.”
Perhaps the physicality of Sunday’s game speaks to the intensity of the season series. Aside from the first meeting of the season, a 45-point Seattle blowout win, each was decided by one possession.
And the series could continue if Salem is able to win their first round matchup with Vancouver on Tuesday.
Seattle sits with the top-seed in the region and a first-round bye, awaiting the winner of the first-round game between Salem and Vancouver.
The two split the regular season series with three wins a piece.
The first round of the TBL playoffs are a one-game play-in. Salem will host Vancouver on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m.