After losing two games in a row in Vegas, the team came back to Houston for the next two games. Their spirits weren’t diminished, but one could sense that they were extremely dejected. Lewis Ronald and Dillon Francis were proving to be quite the steep slope to climb.
It was amidst all this, that Coach Steven Walker knew, that something about his game plan was off.
Something needed to change.
Steven sat down all day and all night watching and breaking down film. By morning, he came up with a plan. He knew that this plan could lead them to victory if it worked out.
Kobayashi Ichikawa, Danny Reynolds, Lokesh Kumar, Odai Beckham Jr, and Keon Jordan Jr were told to go on a jog. The five obeyed, confused and perplexed. It was then that Steven Walker approached the rest of the team members, who were equally bewildered.
“Guys,” he said. “It’s time to show your skills out there.”
“I need you all.”
“Your franchise player, Lokesh, needs you all!”
“Your team needs you all.”
Game three of the western conference finals.
If they lost this, the fourth win for Las Vegas was guaranteed.
No matter how hard Houston tried, they would end up getting eliminated.
No team had ever come back from a 3-0 deficit in NBA history.
Houston could not risk going down 3-0. Because if that happened, mentally, they were already defeated.
So, as Kobayashi Ichikawa, Danny Reynolds, Lokesh Kumar, Odai Beckham Jr, and Keon Jordan Jr started the game, they knew, the pressure was on.
By the end of the first quarter, Lewis Ronald had already scored 13 points, 6 rebounds, and had blocked Odai, Keon, and Lokesh. Dillon Francis also had 11 points to go with 5 assists. Las Vegas led Houston 30-18.
The murmurs were clear.
Las Vegas was winning the encounter.
“Substitution! Team Houston!” yelled the referee.
“A substitution?” thought Lokesh. “Ronald and Francis are killing us!”
The substitute players, Zaire Roberts and Lorenzo Marino, stepped onto the court as replacements for Kobayashi and Danny Reynolds.
“Hey, Lokesh,” said Lorenzo, walking up to him. “Zaire, Odai, and Keon will be on Lewis Ronald. You’ll be on Dillon Francis. We have to shut those two down.”
“Yeah, get it,” smiled Lokesh.
“You and me will be on offense,” said Lorenzo. “I’m the shooting guard. You’re the small forward. We pass and score. Leave the defense to those guys.”
“Wait, you’re the shooting guard?” asked Lokesh. “Aren’t you a power forward?”
“For this game, I’m the shooting guard.”
Lokesh grinned. “Got you, Lorenzo!”
Lewis Ronald got a pass to find himself being triple-teamed by Odai, Keon, and Zaire Roberts. He quickly passed to Dillon Francis, who took a three point shot.
The shot missed badly. Lewis Ronald tried to grab the rebound, but was screened out by Odai Beckham Jr, Keon grabbed the rebound and passed to Lokesh, who flung it to Lorenzo. The massive Italian then put up a three pointer.
The entire Decks team was shocked. They had never expected to see a guy that tall with such a perfect shooting form and stroke.
Lewis Ronald got the ball back. He turned back to see Odai and Keon on him. He leapt up into the air and swept his arms skywards to shoot his signature skyhook.
With a thrill of horror, he noticed he was swishing an empty hand with no ball. Zaire Roberts, being a foot shorter than Lewis, had gotten to his arm’s base level and snatched the ball from him. He then flung a pass to Lorenzo again. “After all that torture in prison for a crime I didn’t commit,” Zaire thought. “I love playing with these guys!”
This repeated three more times. Lewis started to get irritated and throw passes to Dillon Francis. But Lokesh’s lockdown defense made life difficult for the Australian.
Halftime came with Houston leading 55-50.
“Nice one, Lorenzo!” bellowed Keon, slapping him so hand on the shoulders that his knees buckled.
“They’ll come back with a strategy for him now,” said Lokesh grimly.
“That’s right,” agreed Steven. “That’s why Lorenzo and Zaire are out for the second half.”
Lokesh, Odai, Keon, and two new guys, Don Ababio and Kurt Solomon entered the court. The Decks bench groaned. “Now who are they?”
They would soon find out.
Lokesh fired a three and missed badly. Lewis Ronald jumped for the rebound and suddenly, felt a stronger, more physical presence. Don Ababio grabbed the rebound and flung it to Kurt Solomon, who fired a corner three.
“Christ almighty!” thought Lewis Ronald. “An excellent offensive rebounder, and a corner three point shooter! Another dangerous duo!”
This repeated a few more times until Lewis Ronald got impatient. He went on a scoring spree and blocked Lokesh thrice. He regained the lead for the Decks in the middle of the third quarter.
Steven Walker took Ababio and Solomon out. They had done their job.
He then put two more players, Mike McCarter and Chad Brown, into the game. He also put back Kobayashi Ichikawa and took out Odai Beckham Jr, who was tired after guarding Lewis Ronald. Lokesh and Keon were exhausted and slightly demoralized after getting blocked by Lewis Ronald. But Mike screamed and screamed encouragement at Lokesh and Keon. His energy rubbed off them, and they started playing with a higher level of intensity.
“Now an energy-machine?” thought Lewis. “What’s with their bench? They seem to have one of everything!”
Lewis knew Chad Brown, however. The kid was almost awarded the Sixth Man of the Year Award in his second season. Since college, Chad had vastly improved his game. He’d become an excellent rebounder and scorer. He was now using his abilities as a passer, passing to Lokesh and Keon for easy points.
“What’s going on?” raged Lewis mentally.
Steven Walker finally used his final trump card. He removed Chad Brown from the game and replaced him with the Kenyan center Kerubo Kimathi. The line-up was now Kobayashi, Mike McCarter, Lokesh, Kerubo Kimathi, and Keon Jordan Jr.
The score was 138-137 in the favor of Las Vegas with 7 seconds left. Dillon Francis tried dribbling the ball and run down the timer, but had it taken from him by the massive hands of Lokesh Kumar. Lokesh raced towards the opposite end of the court with Lewis Ronald hot on his heels. Lokesh found that Lewis had overtaken him and was now giving him the death-stare of Raw Intimidation. The encounter was an epic clash of Raw Intimidation of both men. Everyone in the crowd, and on the court felt a shiver run up their spines.
“Wait, he’s the same as me?” thought Lewis.
He suddenly saw that Lokesh intended to pass. He saw Keon Jordan Jr set a screen for Lokesh and jump up. “Ha! An alley-oop? Not happening!” he thought.
But, Lokesh flung the ball away from Keon, and away from Lewis who had jumped up to guard him. “What?” thought Lewis. “Where’s he passing?”
“NOOOOOOOOOO!” shrieked Dillon Francis. “LEWIS! THE OTHER WAY!”
With a flash of sheer terror, Lewis Ronald finally figured out the modus operandi, but it was too late. The gigantic Kenyan, Kerubo Kimathi, leapt up from the left, caught the ball, and dunked it in.
"Wait..." thought Dillon Francis. "A double pick-and-roll?"
The final buzzer blew as the Spacewalkers ran onto the court. They had won, and kept their chances alive. Lokesh suddenly noticed something wrong with Lewis Ronald. The man slowly limped away from the court, grimacing in pain.
In his haste to reach Kerubo, Lewis had landed awkwardly and twisted his ankle. He was now on the ground, writhing.
After the game, medics confirmed that Lewis Ronald had sprained his ankle, and would be out for the rest of the postseason. This proved to be the final nail in the coffin for Las Vegas, as Houston won the series 4-2.
They had won the western conference title.
They had reached the NBA final.
The celebrations were short-lived, however, as the team knew, the job wasn’t done.
They were targeting the NBA championship.
The sight of Lokesh’s prowess struck fear in the hearts of Baltimore and their fans. They braced themselves and readied themselves for the final confrontation, which was now inevitable.