For the second season in a row, the NBL minor premiers have been knocked out in the semi-finals as the Illawarra Hawks defeated the Adelaide 36ers on the road in Game 3 by eight points.
The 36ers were up against it from the get-go, and even though they constantly looked as if they were in the game with runs bringing the score back to a position of respectability, they would then go the other way and again be looking down the barrel of a big lead.
Despite coming into the match as favourites, the 36ers never were consistent in their approach to the game and couldn’t capitalise on spending a mountain of time at the free throw line, shooting 27 of 39 from the charity strike.
Jerome Randle seemed to drift in and out of the game, as did their other scorers Daniel Johnson and Nathan Sobey. Without those three firing for the all 40 minutes, it was always going to make life difficult.
The Hawks flew out of the gates and had a nine-point lead at the first change with points coming thick and fast. The most pleasing thing for the Hawks was their work on rebounding and the way they were able to share the ball around and get all involved in offence.
In fact, to halftime you would go as far as to say there was no individual standout for the Hawks, although Marvelle Harris and Rotnei Clarke did their best to fill the roles.
The Hawks continued to increase their lead during the second quarter, but didn’t have it all their own way with the 36ers consistently mounting efforts to keep the score close. Towards the end of the second quarter though, the lead blew out to 14 with Clarke leading the effort.
The unfortunate trend that broke out for the Hawks was foul trouble. The 36ers were in the bonus every single quarter and it’s something they will have to break out of before the grand final rolls around.
There was no stopping the Hawks after halftime, despite having plenty of problems with fouls as Rhys Martin got heavily involved in the game to continue increasing the lead, which sat at 18 by the end of three quarters.
With the 36ers third top – and at the time top scorer Anthony Drmic ejected from the game for two technical fouls the battle was only getting harder in front of a clearly frustrated home crowd.
It didn’t look like much was going to change after the final break, but after four minutes where the lead hovered between 17 and 20, the 36ers began their comeback.
Nathan Sobey and Jerome Randle nailed plenty of shots down the stretch, while their defence suddenly looked like a different team as the Hawks missed shot after shot. Tim Coenraad, who was the Hawks best on court durnig the first two games went particularly quiet.
The lead worked its way down to five points with just 90 seconds to go, but a Rotnei Clarke three iced the game inside the final minute, and the Hawks booked their first appearance in the grand final since 2005.
Of particular concern for the Hawks will be an injury which AJ Ogilvy picked up in the first quarter and never returned from. He briefly tried to get back on court at the end of the first half, but didn’t even begin a play, instead gingerly walking back to the locker room.
If they are to contest with the Perth Wildcats in the grand final, they need their big centre at full fitness.
The grand final series will begin on Sunday evening at 7pm (AEDT), with the Wildcats taking home court advantage after finishing third on the table and knocking over the Cairns Taipans.
Field goals: 36ers (30/67), Hawks (40/87)
Three pointers: 36ers (19/41), Hawks (13/39)
Free throws: 36ers (27/39), Hawks (13/15)
Rebounds: 36ers (47), Hawks (42)
Assists: 36ers (18), Hawks (20)
Steals: 36ers (6), Hawks (9)
Blocks: 36ers (3), Hawks (3)
Turnovers: 36ers (16), Hawks (8)
Points in paint: 36ers (32), Hawks (40)
Second chance points: 36ers (19), Hawks (24)
Points off turnovers: 36ers (10), Hawks (23)
Bench points: 36ers (27), Hawks (66)
Points: Jerome Randle (26), Nathan Sobey (22), Anthony Drmic (10)
Rebounds: Brendan Teys (8), Matt Hodgson, Nathan Sobey (7)
Assists: Jerome Randle, Nathan Sobey (6), Brendan Teys (3)
Points: Rotnei Clarke (20), Marvelle Harris (17), Rhys Martin (13)
Rebounds: Oscar Forman, Michael Hollyfield (6), AJ Ogilvy (5)
Assists: Rhys Martin, Tim Coenraad (4), Kevin White (3)
Adelaide 36ers 98
Illawarra Hawks 104