THE top two seeds in the Men’s SBL need to win twice next weekend to make the 2017 grand final after the Perth Redbacks and Geraldton Buccaneers claimed Game 1 victories in their semi-final series’ on Saturday night.
The two games were tremendous contests to open the semi finals for 2017 featuring the top four teams from the end of the regular season who all needed three games to advance from the quarter finals.
The Perth Redbacks took on the minor premier Willetton Tigers at Willetton Basketball Stadium. The Tigers started on fire but the Redbacks worked back on top and in the end prevailed for the 85-81 victory.
Game 2 will now take place Friday night at Belmont Oasis with Willetton needing to win to force the Game 3 back at home on Saturday night.
Then at Active West Stadium, the Geraldton Buccaneers had their raucous home crowd behind them for the last time in 2017. The Buccs gave Geraldton plenty to cheer for us as well coming away with the 84-77 victory against the Joondalup City Wolves.
Game 2 will take place Saturday night at Joondalup Basketball Stadium and if the Wolfpack wins that, Game 3 back at the same venue on Sunday afternoon.
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The Men’s semi finals got underway at Willetton Basketball Stadium with what always loomed as a cracking series between the Tigers and Redbacks.
Willetton had won through the first round having lost to the Perry Lakes Hawks in Game 1 and then being on the brink in Game 2 before a stunning Ray Turner game-winner. The Tigers then won Game 3 to enter the semi finals after claiming the regular season championship.
Perth also lost its opening game of the quarter finals to the South West Slammers before winning two games in less than 24 hours last weekend to advance and book the meeting with Willetton.
The Redbacks came into the game without emerging star and NBL prospect Marshall Nelson due to a calf complaint and then Shawn Redhage copped two tough calls early on.
The Tigers compounded that for the Redbacks with the opening seven points starting with a three from Kyle Armour, a dunk from Nic Cody and layup from Damien Scott.
Cody soon joined Redhage in early foul trouble and Perth was able to work its way back into the contest with 13 of the next 16 points to take the lead on the back of a Michael Vigor basked before Redhage’s second foul.
But Zac Gattorna made a significant impact in the place of Redhage and then Jack Wagner made a solid contribution in the absence of Nelson to help the Redbacks to an impressive 28-18 quarter-time lead having scored 28 of the last 39 points of the period.
Despite Redhage still having no first half impact having picked up his third foul and Cody suffering the same fate for Willetton, the Redbacks managed to maintain their advantage and still lead by 10 leading into half-time.
Michael Vigor had also been in foul trouble for the Redbacks but the combination of him, Redhage and Lee Roberts was paying dividends to start the third quarter as the lead for the visitors grew to as much as 16 points.
But Willetton was never going to lie down without making a run and by the time Scott and Jay Bowie hit threes to close the third quarter, the margin was just a point and the stage was set for a frantic finish.
It was always destined to go down to the wire and in the end fouls played a significant fact. Vigor’s night ended for the Redbacks with 4:30 left and then the same happened for the Tigers two stars, firstly Bowie with 1:30 left and then Turner with 10 seconds remaining.
Turner fouled out after being called for the foul on Redhage who had made a tremendous cut to the basket and was found with a pin-point pass by Roberts as the shot clock was running down.
Redhage went back and nailed both free-throws to put the Redbacks up by four. The Tigers scored a layup through Lachie Evans before fouling Roberts quickly who made both at the line to keep the four-point lead.
There was little the Tigers could so with the four-point deficit and the Redbacks claimed the Game 1 win on the road to give them the chance to advance to the grand final with a win at home on Friday.
But the Tigers got through in the same situation in the quarter finals and will have faith of doing so again.
The inside power of the Redbacks big trio was a significant factor in the win with Lee Roberts leading the way with 21 points, 16 rebounds and four assists on the back of playing 39 minutes with the other two suffering foul trouble.
Redhage still ended up with 20 points and 10 rebounds in just 26 minutes while Michael Vigor had 17 points and four boards.
Captain Joel Wagner ended up with 11 points, seven assists and five rebounds for Perth while Zac Gattorna contributed seven points and Ben Smith five.
Ray Turner had a big night for the Tigers as he tried to battle the bigs of the Redbacks almost single-handedly. He did what he could for 25 points, 11 rebounds and three assists with Nic Cody limited to 11 minutes, four points and three rebounds.
Jay Bowie finished with 19 points, six rebounds and three assists but was left devastated when fouled out.
Damien Scott added 13 points, seven rebounds, five assists and five steals with Lachie Evans contributing six points, Hayden Noordhoek six points and Kyle Armour five to go with six assists, three steals and two rebounds.
Redbacks coach Nik Lackovic couldn’t have been happier with his team’s effort to win but knows they will have to work even harder to win through to the grand final.
“One of the emphasis’ that we talked about was making sure we controlled the tempo against this team. We feel that we’ve got some guys out there on the floor who can create some mismatches for us at certain times, but they are a quality team who are well-drilled,” Lackovic said.
“We had some foul trouble early in this game so we only got six minutes out of Shawn in the first half but then you get a guy like Zac Gattorna who over the course of the playoff series has stepped up remarkably.
“To also do it without Marshall Nelson and have our perimeter not as effective as normal, it shows the grit and character in the group. We knew they were going to make a run at us at some stage and that’s the talent they have with guys like Bowie, Turner and Scott.
“We felt like we did a good job but they hit tough shots at the end of the third quarter with back-to-back triples. We also understand that this is a series so we aren’t celebrating anything by winning one game. We are just going to try and prepare as well as we did last week, and we know we must go out and do more to take this second game away from them.”
Then in Geraldton’s Active West Stadium, the Buccaneers strode out onto their home floor in front of the biggest and loudest home crowd in the SBL for the last time this season ready to give their locals something fondly to remember this team by.
Their challenge was significant up against a Wolves team who went on an eight-game winning streak to finish the season and end up in second spot before beating the Cockburn Cougars in three games in the quarter finals.
The Buccs also needed three games in the quarter finals to overcome the Stirling Senators, but they got to play Games 2 and 3 at home last week meaning they had been at home for two weeks coming into Saturday’s semi-final Game 1 against the Wolves.
But it was the Wolfpack who started strongly to lead by three points by quarter-time and then six at the half.
However, the Buccaneers were able to work their way on top throughout the second half and at one stage went on a 14-0 run to end up leading by eight points, and then hold on down the stretch to claim the seven-point win.
The series will now shift to Joondalup Basketball Stadium starting Saturday night in the last ever weekend for the venue to host SBL matches.
MVP favourite Dwayne Benjamin came up huge for the Buccaneers with 34 points and 12 rebounds on the back of shooting 12-of-21 from the field, 3-of-7 from deep and 7-of-8 at the foul line.
Mo Barrow added 23 points, six rebounds and four steals for the Buccs, Jackson Hussey 15 points, 11 rebounds and four assists, and Aaron Ralph 11 points, six boards and four steals.
Trian Iliadis continued his form from last Saturday night’s Game 3 with another 22 points and five rebounds for the Wolves including 5-of-12 from downtown.
Ryan Wright finished with 16 points and seven rebounds for the Wolfpack, Rob Huntington 12 points, 11 boards and three blocked shots, Rhys Smyth eight points and five assists, and Ben Ironmonger seven points, five rebounds and three assists.
MEN’S SBL GAME 1 SEMI FINAL RESULTS
Willetton Tigers 81 lost to Perth Redbacks 85
Geraldton Buccaneers 84 defeated Joondalup City Wolves 77
Photo by Sports Imagery Australia