THE long regular season is over and we have arrived at the NBL Finals. The first seeded Perth Wildcats secured a home court advantage throughout the finals, with the reigning champions Melbourne United securing home court for their first round matchup.
Perth Wildcats vs Brisbane Bullets series recap (Perth win series 2-0)
The Wildcats opened up their finals run with a home game against Brisbane who just managed to sneak into the finals on the final week of the regular season. The atmosphere was electric in Perth with the Wildcats fans eager to see their team go on another run towards a championship. The Bullets were use to the high pressure stakes, having essentially played finals type basketball for the past month, just to get themselves into the tournament and as a result they brought the intensity right out the gates. The Bullets sound gameplan was able to slow down Perth’s offence and keep the game as a defensive battle for the first 20 minutes. The Wildcats held a narrow 41-40 lead heading into the halftime break. The third quarter would prove to be the difference however, as the Wildcats made the proper halftime adjustments en route to a 30-15 third quarter to expand the lead heading into the final 10 minutes. The Bullets were unable to get any offence going in the fourth quarter, as Perth’s defence held the Bullets to just four points, to run away with an 89-59 win. Bryce Cotton led the way with 22, with teammates Nathan Kay and Terrico White adding 18 and 19 respectively. Bullets leading scorer Lamar Patterson was held to just three of 14 shooting from the field and kept in single figures with nine points, a tremendous defensive effort from the Wildcats.
The Bullets returned home, hoping to keep their season alive and sending the series to a win or go home game 3. Perth have proven to be a terrific road team throughout the season, so registering their first victory of the series was going to be no easy task. Lamar Patterson responded to his poor performance in game one, scoring six points in the early minutes to pace Brisbane and keep them in the game. He enjoyed a back and forth battle with Terrico White who led the way for his team. The two teams battled throughout the contest, with the lead never reaching double figures as we were set up for a grandstand finish. The Wildcats held a narrow seven point lead heading into the last quarter as the game had the feel of one which would come down to the final minutes. The Bullets battled right to the end and even cut the lead to just two points with three minutes remaining. To their credit, the Wildcats pushed the lead back up to six with one minute remaining before Cameron Gliddon made a huge three pointer to keep the game alive. Nicholas Kay then stepped up to the free throw line and made a pair of clutch free throws to put the game out of reach. The Wildcats advance to the grand final series, while the loss sees the Bullets season come to an end.
Melbourne United vs Sydney Kings series recap (Melbourne win 2-0)
The rivalry between Melbourne and Sydney was reignited as Melbourne United and the Sydney Kings battled it out in the NBL Semi final series. Despite finishing with the same record at the end of the regular season, Melbourne United gained a home court advantage and as a result would have the decisive game three at Melbourne Arena if required. A star studded series saw Andrew Bogut and Jerome Randle battle Casper Ware and his well rounded United team. The first quarter was electric as both teams lit it up from the field, with shots falling from just about everywhere. Melbourne United continued their hot shooting in the second quarter, while also keeping the Kings to just 11 second quarter points, which helped them open up a big halftime lead of 52-35. The Kings slowly cut into the lead in the third but United never let them get within realistic striking distance and managed to win the quarter by a point to carry a comfortable lead into the fourth. United put the game away early and eventually cruised to a 22-point win to take control of the series and move one step closer to defending their title. All the key players for United were on their game when it mattered most, with Josh Boone, DJ Kennedy, Mitch McCarron, Casper Ware and Chris Goulding combining for 88 of the teams 95 points. The Kings struggled on offence as United shut down Jerome Randle, holding him to just 13 points on just five for 13 from the field. League MVP Andrew Bogut also had very little impact with just seven points and seven rebounds.
The series shifted to Sydney on Sunday afternoon where Melbourne United looked to lock down their Grand Final meeting with the Wildcats and Sydney looked to extend the series. Jerome Randle once again struggled early, seemingly unable to get even the easiest of shots to fall, something that would continue throughout the game. This coupled with him having to chase Casper Ware around on the defensive end of the floor made for a tough outing for the Kings star, as he was thoroughly outplayed and outsmarted by the Melbourne team. Despite his struggles, the Kings kept themselves in the contest throughout and had every chance to emerge victorious. Melbourne once again took control in the third quarter to open up the game and put themselves in the drivers seat. Melbourne United played a fantastic final term to put the game and the series away, with a decisive 90-76 win. Casper Ware was absolutely unstoppable, with 30 points to lead the way, alongside teammate Chris Goulding who once again performed at his best. Randle finished with just one made field goal from his 15 attempts and was held to a season low two points in an incredible effort. The win moves Melbourne United into the second consecutive grand final series where they take on the Perth Wildcats. For the Kings, a fantastic resurgent season comes to an end, as does Andrew Gaze’s time as head coach of the club. Andrew Bogut will also be seeking an NBA contract as their season comes to a close, with a number of teams having expressed interest in the veteran big man, who could be a key contributor on a playoff side.