Story:Striking the Match
Striking the Match
Written by FadedForest and BladesDaRaccoon
The roar of the crowd picked up as coach Crestin called another timeout in the 3rd Quarter. Seattle had built a double digit lead early in the second half but Bangor had started to regain momentum, something the Summit needed to break to get the game back under the Summit’s control.
Leon listened as best he could, forced to tune out the familiar chants from what was once his home court. It was still surreal to the cougar, having played in Shawshank Stadium for two seasons before jumping ship across the country to Seattle. This marked just his second time stepping back onto the court, third if you count a meaningless preseason game he didn’t even dress out for. The first return was overshadowed by an unwanted championship ring being presented to him which only fed into the awkward atmosphere, but now he was met with the requisite boos one would expect of a star player returning to a jilted fanbase. Honestly he hoped Crestin would call a play where Leon could just shut them up.
Crestin seemed to have read the cougar’s mind, calling for a Give 51 play off the inbound...that would do for Leon.
The whistle blew and they returned to the court. Wayne set to inbound the ball from the right sideline to Leon and afterwards headed towards the three-point line. Daniel positioned himself at the top of the key ready to receive the pass from Leon. Once inbounded all Leon had to do was dish it to the polar bear and wait for Wayne to set up the screen. Right as the tasmanian devil set his feet Leon was off to the baseline, Lance forced to now try dodging the pick, leaving Randy to switch and play catch up on the breaking cougar. With the separation and height advantage of Daniel and Leon, it the cougar wide open for a pass with nothing between him and the basket for a signature slam dunk to shut down the Tides growing momentum...at least it seemed that way until Lance entered from Leon’s peripheral, sliding in on his left as he leapt, setting up to take a charge.
Already going airborne, Leon had no chance to change his path as he bumped hard into the rabbit, knocking him down to the court and sliding, though the impact from the rabbit was not enough to throw off his dunk. Whistles blew and Leon dreaded the incoming charge call as that would be his 5th foul. However that worry melted away as the ref motioned a blocking foul on Lance, indicating his paws were not set before the contact. Leon smirked down at the rabbit, his bucket would count and Lance had gifted him an and 1 opportunity.
“Might wanna be careful, first time ever you don’t have that extra padding to cushion your flops.” Leon snidely remarked.
Lance finally decided to actually give a damn and get in top shape this offseason and it infuriated the cougar. Even when not giving it his all Lance had been better than Leon while he was in Bangor, and he coasted on that fact. Had Lance actually gave it his all they could have won a Championship his rookie year, a ring he could have been proud of. But no, they won the next year, Leon missing all but the first game of the Final’s, and Lance had to rely on Tia carrying the team to hoist the trophy.
Lance even had the nerve to announce he planned to retire at the end of the season after giving it one true ‘go’ by showing up in shape. Though that brought a slight joy to the cougar, as it meant Bangor had chosen wrong in the long term when it came to picking between Leon or Lance.
It was the main reason he left, not longer willing to be pushed aside and have his growth hindered. Seattle gave him exactly what he wanted and the environment to help him thrive, proven by his MVP last year. Lance had just turned up the timetable on him having to prove he was the best of the two, before the rabbit had a chance to hide behind retirement.
Even in his musing he watched on, smirk ever present, as the raccoon came over to give Lance a paw to help him stand up and checking over the rabbit as if he was some fragile piece of glass before levelling a glare at Leon.
Similar to Leon, who sought to outshine Lance, Ash sought to prove himself as more than Leon’s replacement. Yet it was not simply a desire to prove himself that he gave it his all, no it was because of a certain cougar he had grown a burning hatred for. He did not just want to beat him...he wanted to outright destroy him. Seeing all the hard fouling that was going on had him worried there was gonna be another incident like the Olympics...he just could not let that happen...not for Lance’s finale...he deserved a storybook ending in his eyes, no matter the cost...and getting the win and rubbing Delmont’s nose in it would be a good addition to that. Everyone saw an MVP in Leon but Ash...all he saw was a selfish, stat padding jerk who only cared about his own numbers and paycheck opposed to actually being part of a team.
Watching the ensuing drive, Ash was sure this would be a charge call but was flabbergasted when they called a blocking foul on Lance visibly getting ticked off, “Bullshit…refs kissin’ his ass again...” he mumbled under his breath as he went to Lance’s side.
However...Ash saw the smirk on Leon’s face as he helped Lance to his feet. That was it, he had been trying this all night and he had to be stopped...someone needed to put this overgrown housecat in his place. After he had made sure Lance was alright, he turned to Leon glaring straight up daggers at him and started yelling, “HEY! You see that rabbit! That’s my brother ya’ cocky bastard!”
Getting in his face now, seemingly trying to back the taller cougar into a corner, and no longer restraining his temper he continued, “You ain’t better than him so ya wanna try an’ hurt ‘im?! I ain’t lettin’ you hurt him!” Ash yelled, fueled by the cheers from the crowd as he confronted the overgrown housecat, “You need to learn some respect pussycat!” He yelled trying to shove Leon towards the stanchion. But by now teammates from both sides had started to pull the two apart and his shove was nowhere near as good as he had hoped. Yet that did not stop the cascade of whistles going off.
Only after his teammates had pulled him away and the referees felt it had de-escalated did they award Ash a technical foul. Had Lance not physically stopped him Ash would have given the caoti referee an earful. Luckily it seemed as though Ash was able to be talked down, in all honesty Lance probably saved him from being ejected right then and there. But instead he remained, having to watch on as the cougar was granted his two free throws, nailing both the one for the technical foul and his and one attempt. Another whistle sounded, Ash looking around in surprise at first until he saw Coach Devlin decided not to give them a chance to inbound the ball before calling a timeout. There was a slight frown that hung on the kangaroo’s muzzle as the team gathered round, surely upset over the four-point play they had just given up.
“Keep attacking their perimeter, their post defense is only formidable when they can rely on help defense, and if we keep hammering them from beyond the arc it will open more options down low. We have the speed advantage so use it and your teammates to get open looks.” Devlin looked to Lance, “That was a good effort on Leon, keep trying to draw another foul against him if you can. Having him foul out would be ideal, but even at five he has a habit of pulling up rather than driving so we even one more foul should be enough to reduce his impact on the offensive end.” The kangaroo looked around, “That goes for everyone, if you get him to bite on a pump-fake then make it count and draw contact. Play physical, but keep your head in the game.” He specifically looked at Ash when he said that last part.
All too quickly the whistle sounded, signalling both teams to return to the court. Desdemona set to inbound the ball and Ash took his spot near the top of the key. Lance was the intended recipient of the inbound but started on the opposite side of the court, waiting just until the referee handed the ball over to the inbounder before breaking from a standstill. All Ash had to do was set a screen to buy space for Lance, and who was he to complain if it meant he might get to give the cougar a hard screen, bowling over Lance was one thing, but hitting the raccoon would surely knock the cougar about.
Unfortunately as Lance ran up Blake called out the screen and yelled to switch, meaning Blake broke away from Ash to cover Lance, leaving Leon on the raccoon without any sort of collision. The inbound was clean, and Lance had momentum so broke off to the basket. Just as Coach Devlin had predicted the defense instantly started to collapse around Lance, but that also meant it left gaps on the perimeter coverage.
Which is exactly what Lance had been aiming for as he tried to pass it back to Randy on the perimeter. It would have been an open three too if not for Blake, who was a step behind still chasing the rabbit, tipping it with his paw, forcing a turnover. Ash reacted on instinct, immediately turning to run back on defense. He grit his teeth as he ran as fast as possible towards the paint. It did not take a defensive genius to know what would happen next as Blake corralled the loose ball and immediately hurled it up the court to an already running Leon. The cougar thrived in the fast break, using his combination of size and speed to crash the basket, and only Ash had a chance to stop him.
A race between the two to the basket ensued, a time that would only take a handful of seconds for either player. Yet time dragged on in Ash’s mind with a single question, how can he stop Leon here? He doesn’t have enough of a lead to set up for a charge and the chances of getting a paw on the ball were low as the cougar would just switch paws away from Ash and use his wingspan to his advantage. Trying to block him from behind was another option, but if he gave up even an inch there was little doubt Leon would showboat and go for a slam dunk. Ash would not concede here, take nothing less than stopping this shot, he wouldn’t let that overgrown cat’s ego grow anymore with another showy basket.
A quick glance at the cougar running alongside him reignited the rage from earlier as another hint of a smug look crept onto the cougar’s maw. Not that Ash needed to get in more hot water Delmont was out for blood tonight and needed to be stopped...put in his place...
‘Fuck it.’ Ash thought. ‘Let’s see if you are smiling after this.’
Both jumped, but while Leon focused on getting the ball to the basket Ash’s goal was simple...intentionally fouling, and hard, to make sure Leon missed.
Swiping down his raised arm, at first glance, it seemed like your average attempt at swatting the ball, a block attempt the raccoon had done several times before initially trying to play on the ball but first hitting him on the arm hard as he could however he bent his own at an angle and swung his elbow out violently...bam! Truth be told Ash wished it coulda just been a block...not exactly a shining example for his baby sister to follow...He knew likely at this point his night was done but...did what he had to do. That was payback...No time to be remorseful now...
Elbow met face and while Ash remained standing after landing Leon went down to his knees, one paw holding his muzzle while the other used the padded stanchion as support.
“Not so funny when it’s you on the floor huh?” Ash chided as referees’ whistles sung out. The twitching of Leon’s ears was the first and only indication Leon had heard him before the cougar launched to his feet, pupils constricted and full of malice directed at him. Even as Leon closed the gap in an instant and pulled the raccoon by the jersey so the two were face to face, Ash’s smug grin never left his face. And why would it? The blood stained fur decorating the snarled maw of the pompous ass looking down on him was nothing less than justice served.
The three referees descended on them, trying to separate the two, though they were quickly joined by the players. The voices all overlapped and Ash could feel his jersey tearing as they tried to separate the two. Only after the other Summit starters get to Leon did he finally relent, releasing Ash’s jersey and throwing his paws up in the air and letting himself be pulled away.
“You’ll still have me to contend with!” Ash shouting at the cougar as a parting shot of sorts.
Now free from the cougars grasp, Ash too was pulled away, first by the referees and players and then by Coach Devlin who pulled him to the bench.
“Sit.” He commanded with a firm paw placed on Ash’s shoulder. His coach let out a deep sigh. “How the hell was that keeping your head Ash?” It was rhetorical, and while Ash wanted to answer he could tell by the coaches tone, answering was not in Ash’s best interest.
His coach let out an exasperated sigh, “They will do their automatic review since it was called a flagrant two,” the kangaroo continued, “But even if they downgrade it, your little shove a few minutes ago means they’ll still likely eject you.” He finished frowning as he looked over to the three referees watching the video playback on the scorer’s table.
Ash watched as they discussed, before glancing up to the big screen which had focused on Seattle’s bench. A ghost of a smile played on Ash’s maw admiring his handiwork. Seattle’s training staff looking over the big cat and surely still attempting to stop the bleeding. Sadly the camera cut back to the referees far too quickly. It didn’t take long for them to confirm the call, the head ref signalling his ejection with the seal referee coming to talk to Devlin while the dingo heading to the Seattle bench. He stood with no protest, security already there to escort him back to the locker room.
Throwing a glance to Seattle’s bench he was greeted with the welcome site of Leon too rising, towel pressed against his face, a menacing glare thrown Ash’s way as the trainers tried to direct him towards Seattle’s own locker room.
Realization swept over Ash, no longer able to hold back the smirk as it was obvious Leon was done just as he was. Just a small bit of karmic justice if Ash could say so. Locking eyes with the cougar he offered a cheeky wave before turning back towards the home teams tunnel.
Ash began his slow walk back to the tunnel, seeming to mouth apologies to his team and his family as he locked eyes with them...a very small show of remorse for him. However...after that the remorse soon faded as he held his arms up, clearly playing to the crowd now with their cheers and jeers. As he stepped into the darkness of the tunnel he made his usual rockfists like when he’d run out of said tunnel. Sure his actions were villainous but the fans seemed to hail him as a hero so...why not give them what they craved?