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Sports

Xplosion fall in playoffs

| Sunday, March 19, 2006

Professional playoff basketball returned to Pittsburgh Saturday night for the first time in more than 30 years.

The Pittsburgh Xplosion (18-12) lost to the Bellingham Slam (20-14), 122-115, in the second round of the American Basketball Association playoffs in front of a festive crowd of 672 at the Petersen Event Center.

Even Steelers Hall of Fame running back Franco Harris was there to support the Xplosion.

"I like the product that I see," Harris said of his first Xplosion game. "I think that this is something that can really take off in Pittsburgh. I have always wanted a pro team to come to this city. I'm a big fan."

Harris almost seemed ready to play the game himself.

"Of course, every football player thinks they're a great basketball player," he said. "I really enjoy it and I used to play with Pitt every off-season."

The Xplosion, who hadn't played a game since Feb. 28, showed no indication of rustiness and led at the end of the opening quarter, 33-31. The momentum soon shifted and Bellingham guard Caleb Gervin, ABA All Star and Player of the Year candidate, hit a 3-pointer at the end of the first half. That concluded a Bellingham 29-19 run in the second quarter that gave it a 60-52 lead at halftime.

Gervin was the the top scorer in the first half with 19 points, including a pair of 3s. Former Kansas State Wildcats player Janerio Spurlock led first-half scoring for Pittsburgh with 14 points and three 3-pointers.

Bellingham began the second half with a flurry of scoring and extended its lead to 20 points, 87-67, midway through the third quarter. Bellingham began the fourth quarter with a commanding 97-83 lead.

With the game seemingly decided in favor of the Slam and less than five minutes remaining, Pittsburgh began a frantic 10-0 run that re-energized the fans and tied the score, 109-109.

Bellingham dominated the final minute of play to take the win, 122-115.

"We showed we had some character and that it's not over until it's over," said Xplosion coach Tom Thacker, who won championships as a player in the NCAA (University of Cincinnati), ABA (Indiana Pacers) and NBA (Boston Celtics). "We just made some bad decisions down the stretch that cost us."

Bellingham advances to the ABA quarterfinal Great Eight Tournament on Wednesday in Rochester, N.Y.

Gervin finished with a game-high 33 points.

For the Xplosion, Bethel Park resident Armon "The Hammer" Gilliam, who played in the NBA for 13 years, was held to 17 points, six under his average. Former Point Park star Devaugh Halsel led Xplosion scorers with 21 points.

"I'm proud of how well the team did this year considering how young they are," said Thacker, who is unsure of whether he will be back with the team next season. "This team will continue to get better and will be much more mature next year."

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