PORTLAND — The Vancouver Volcanoes landed their archrival’s best player before the start of the 2013 season.
So on Friday night, with the International Basketball League championship game on the line against the Bellingham Slam, Vancouver put their last hope into his hands.
However, Paul Hafford — who played for Bellingham last season — could not save his new team and barely missed a deep, potential game-tying 3-pointer at the buzzer as Vancouver lost 117-114.
Bellingham (18-2) won its second straight IBL title as well as eliminated Vancouver (16-5) for the consecutive year.
Although the Volcanoes finished a successful season with an undefeated home record, the team could not figure out Bellingham and lost three times to the adversary.
“They shoot the ball better,” Hafford said, explaining Bellingham’s strengths compared to other opponents. “They play well together and they play team ball.”
The same description can also fit the Volcanoes, as they received well-rounded offensive performances from forward and league MVP Chehales Tapscott (23 points), guard Garrett Sim (19) and Hafford who finished with 21 points on three free throws and six 3-pointers. However, the last long attempt weighed on Hafford’s mind after the game.
“Gosh darnit!” Hafford said to himself. “I thought it was in.”
With 1.4 seconds remaining in the game, Hafford had to launch a 30-plus foot shot to force overtime. Despite the desperate circumstances, Hafford’s attempt just missed at the front of the rim as Bellingham players celebrated at midcourt.
“I thought it was good,” Volcanoes head coach Joe Navarro said. “It looked good off his hand. I’m surprised he missed it. That’s just the way Paul is. He wanted the ball out of the timeout and I gave it to him.”
Though Vancouver trailed throughout the game — even lagging behind by 19 points in the second quarter — clutch shooting pulled the Volcanoes back within the final two minutes of the game.
When Bellingham led 115-103, Hafford and Sim caught fire. Hafford drained two straight from beyond the arc, and Sim scored on a driving lay up while getting fouled. With 33.1 seconds remaining, Hafford drained another long triple to pull Vancouver to within 116-114.
Bellingham missed three free throws down the stretch of the final minute and when the Slam’s Blake Pool could only make one of two at the line, the miss gave Vancouver new hope with only a precious second remaining.
The Volcanoes called timeout and turned to the Slam’s biggest nightmare. However, Hafford’s dagger could not sting his former teammates.
“As long as I’m in half court and there’s no hand up, I feel like I can make it,” Hafford said. “It looked good.”