IN just the penultimate round of the regular season teams battle for the final available spot in the finals, while the three teams entrenched in the top four jostle for home court advantage throughout the playoffs.
New Zealand Breakers 107 defeated by Adelaide 36ers 114
With finals out of reach for the Breakers they hosted the 36ers with a chance to put a dent in Adelaide’s finals hopes and keep last years runners up out of the top four. After an inconsistent start to the season the 36ers seem to have found their stride at the right time and head into the final weeks of the season playing as well as anyone in the league. Adelaide came out the gates strong and opened up a double figure lead heading into halftime. Shawn Long and Nathan Sobey enjoyed quite the back and fourth duel as Long did everything he could to keep the Breakers within striking distance. New Zealand were able to cut the lead to single figures early in the final quarter and with momentum on their side appeared to be on their way to causing an upset victory. To their credit, the 36ers responded and put the game out of reach and established themselves as a force to be reckoned with. Nathan Sobey finished with 27 points, five rebounds and nine assists in an excellent all around game, while teammate Ramone Moore added 18 points off the bench, providing a huge spark for the 36ers in his first game since January.
Brisbane Bullets 98 defeated Illawarra Hawks 87
The Bullets came into round 17 just a game out of the top four, needing to make up one game on the Adelaide 36ers over the final two rounds. They played host to the Illawarra Hawks who have had a great second half of the season but appears as though it will be too little too late. The two teams played the best game of the round, in what was mostly a defensive struggle with a slow tempo but an exciting game none the less. The margin was in single figures for much of the game and would come down to the final seconds of regulation. A pair of huge free throws from Adam Gibson with just 10 seconds left allowed the Bullets to tie the game and send it into overtime. In the extra session the Bullets took firm control, outscoring the Hawks 14-3 and keeping their finals hope alive. Lamar Patterson continued his strong stretch of play with 24 points to pace Brisbane, while the Hawks used an all around team effort which saw six players score in double figures, led by four bench players.
Sydney Kings 97 defeated Melbourne United 85
In the biggest game of the round and of the season to this point, the Sydney Kings hosted Melbourne United in Sydney, a place that has seen many successes for the visiting side. Both teams brought the intensity of the defensive end from the start of the game as baskets were hard to come by. Melbourne especially struggled to find their flow, with their usual high scoring offence scoring just 39 points in the first half. The Kings made key half-time adjustments to build on their narrow lead, opening up a 12 point advantage heading into the final quarter. Melbourne United were unable to make any inroads on the lead as the Kings got the huge victory and cut into United’s lead above the top of the table. The point guard, centre duo of Jerome Randle and Andrew Bogut was huge, with Bogut controlling the inside and creating space on offense for Randle to penetrate, attack and kick out to shooters. Randle finished with 21 points, while Bogut added 15 points and 12 rebounds. Melbourne United star Casper Ware struggled to put his imprint on the game, going just seven of 19 from the field for 17 points. The win drops United back into a three way tie in the loss column with the Kings and Wildcats as the race for home court in the playoffs heat up.
Cairns Taipans 79 defeated Brisbane Bullets 68
The Taipans have enjoyed a nice month of basketball, winning three games in the past four weeks after winning just one of their first 15 games. On paper this looked like an easy win for the Bullets which would further allow them to establish themselves as a finals fancy. This would absolutely not be the case however as the Taipans blitzed the Bullets early on, establishing a comfortable lead, which they would not surrender. The Taipans defence was unbelievable all day, keeping the Bullets to just 68 points for the entire game, this was highlighted by a first quarter in which they held them to only 11 points and a third quarter where they held Brisbane to 13 points. Their elite defence will be something to watch next season with the last several games showing the potential they have moving forward. Melo Trimble is a star who continues to impress with each passing game, scoring 23 points to lead the home team. Outside of Lamar Patterson and Jeremy Kendle the Bullets could not get anything going on the offensive side of the ball. The loss drops them two games behind Adelaide with just three to play and sees their final hopes fade.
Illawarra Hawks 81 defeated by New Zealand Breakers 96
After a disappointing outing in Brisbane earlier this weekend, the Hawks returned home to take on the Breakers who were also coming off a loss. The Hawks have been a tough out at home all season and their exciting play has energised the fans, helping to create a home court advantage and a difficult place to play. Unfortunately for the great fans of Illawarra there was not much to cheer about in this contest as the Breakers controlled the game from start to finish in a wire-to-wire victory where they never surrendered the lead. Shawn Long’s big stretch continued and teammate Tai Wesley had his best game in months, scoring 23 points on 10 of 14 from the field. For the Hawks, Brian Conklin impressed with 20 points but the lack of offensive success hurt the Hawks with just 81 points for the game.
Adelaide 36ers 87 defeated by Melbourne United 89
In the first of two huge Sunday afternoon games, Melbourne United continued their road trip when they took on Adelaide. Both teams looked good early and the intensity was there from both teams in a tight back and forth first half, where Adelaide held a 52-48 lead at the half. The defences took control in the third quarter in just a 18-16 third term which allowed the 36ers to build a solid six point lead heading into the final 10 minutes. Melbourne United as they have done so many times over the past two seasons, stormed home and turned the game into a tight one which would come down to the final minutes. Chris Goulding’s back to back clutch shots, tied the game at 84 and gave United the 86-84 lead. The 36ers had several chances to tie or take the lead in the final minute but were unable to. This resulted in a clutch stepback jumpshot from Casper Ware who iced the game and secured a huge win for United. The loss for Adelaide drops them back to only one game ahead of the Bullets heading into the last round. The win for United is huge in that it ties them for top spot with the Perth ahead of their huge encounter next week.
Perth Wildcats 95 defeated Sydney Kings 86
If we thought the game between Melbourne United and the Sydney Kings was intense earlier this round, then this game was something else. With both teams tied with only nine losses the Wildcats hosted the Kings looking to leapfrog them and head into the top spot in the standings. The Kings completely shut down the Wildcats in the first quarter, jumping out to a 26-12 lead and looked all the goods to take the game over. The Wildcats slowly crept back into the game, cutting the lead to 10 at the half and then four heading into the fourth quarter. The Wildcats finally took the lead early in the fourth quarter and set us up for a grandstand finish. Jerome Randle got hot, scoring seven points in a one minute stretch to regain the lead for Sydney. This run was immediately answered by Nathan Kay and Damian Martin who hit huge shots down the stretch to tie the game at 77 with just 24 seconds remaining. The Kings had a chance to close out the game in regulation but Randle missed a floating shot which allowed the Wildcats a chance to win at the buzzer which was also unsuccessful. The game would go into overtime before the Wildcats used their second half momentum to run out nine point winners and drop the Kings to third on the ladder, putting their name forward for home court advantage. The superstar guards Bryce Cotton and Randle put on a show for their teams, with Cotton winning the battle, outscoring Randle 27-25 as well as the win.