THE Perth Redbacks will play its first Men’s SBL Grand Final since 1999 having defeated the minor premier Willetton Tigers in Game 2 of the semi finals at Belmont Oasis on Friday night.
With Kyle Bowen back from the Basketball Australia Centre of Excellence and Marshall Nelson returning from a calf complaint, the Redbacks had their full roster available on Friday night for the very first time in 2017 and the result was them winning through to the Grand Final.
The Tigers came out on fire with a 15-2 opening to the game knowing they needed to win to force the deciding Game 3 back at Willetton Basketball Stadium.
But with the Redbacks’ strength inside from Lee Roberts, Michael Vigor, Shawn Redhage and even Bowen, and with Nelson coming up huge showing why he has a future at the next level, the home team got the job done against the team that finished on top after the regular season.
The Redbacks beat the Tigers 101-92 on Friday night at Belmont Oasis to now book a spot in next Saturday night’s Men’s SBL Grand Final at Bendat Basketball Centre.
Their opponent is still to be determined with Game 2 between the Joondalup City Wolves and Geraldton Buccaneers to take place at Joondalup Basketball Stadium Saturday night.
The Wolves need to win to force a Game 3 on Sunday at the same venue while if they can’t, it will be the Buccs facing the Redbacks in the Grand Final.
SEMI FINALS WEEK 2 MEN’S SBL PREVIEW
REDHAGE ENJOYING SBL EXPERIENCE AT REDBACKS MORE THAN HE IMAGINED
ARMOUR STRIVING FOR BOYHOOD DREAM WITH WILLETTON
BRINGING SUCCESS TO PLAYING GROUP, REDBACKS LACKOVIC’S FOCUS
The Redbacks entered Game 2 at Belmont Oasis on Friday night having claimed the 85-81 victory in Game 1 last Saturday night at Willetton Basketball Stadium.
However, the Tigers had lost Game 1 in the quarter finals as well only to bounce back and beat the Perry Lakes Hawks in three games and the way they started on Friday suggested they were going to force the decider back on their home floor once again.
Willetton came out an inspired outfit opening a 15-2 lead after the first three and-a-half minutes with eight of those points courtesy of Jay Bowie.
But Perth did well to reduce its deficit to eight points by the end of the first quarter and then it was time for Lee Roberts to take over in the second quarter. He scored 15 points in less than six minutes of the quarter and then when Ben Smith and Kyle Bowen knocked down triples, the Redbacks were in front for the first time in the ball game.
The Redbacks went on to lead by four points at half-time but with their season on the line, the Tigers weren’t going to lie down. Bowie came out and hit the five points of the second half before Ray Turner added two to put them up 50-47.
The lead continued to change hands with both teams scoring at either end with the Tigers opening a five-point lead that was back to just one by three quarter-time.
But Turner being in foul trouble and then Nic Cody’s minutes limited both because of his sore back and fouls was beginning to become the biggest factor in the contest.
An Andrew Black three early in the last quarter did keep the Tigers in front by three and they were still up by three with 7:30 left but that would be as good as it got for Willetton.
The Redbacks regained the lead on the back of five quick points from Shawn Redhage and that grew to a seven-point advantage with four minutes left after Nelson nailed another three.
Redhage and Roberts helped the lead grow to eight and there would be no coming back for the Tigers this time as the Redbacks scored the nine-point win to advance to the Grand Final.
The four-pronged big man combination of Vigor, Roberts, Redhage and Bowen proved to be a huge factor in the series with Turner doing a power of work opposed to them for the Tigers, but it proved too much for one man.
With Cody struggling with his back and foul trouble through the series, the Tigers desperately missed that one extra body which the injured Josh Johnson would have been able to provide if healthy.
In the end, the Redbacks scored 48 points inside the paint in Game 2 to 32 from the Tigers. Willetton’s turnovers also proved costly as the game went on with them finishing with 16 of which Perth scored 29 points off.
Friday night was the first time that this full group of Redbacks had played together and it was Roberts who was the standout with 34 points, seven rebounds, four assists and four steals on shooting 14-of-24 from the field and 3-of-4 from three-point range.
Nelson finished with 17 points and eight rebounds as well for the Redbacks with Redhage contributing 14 points, seven boards and four assists, Smith 14 points, Vigor 13 points, six rebounds, five assists and three steals, and Bowen seven points and three boards.
Captain Joel Wagner also had two points and five assists.
Turner still had 26 points and 13 rebounds for Willetton but if he had played closer to 40 minutes and avoided foul trouble, he could have gone close to changing the result given his quality.
Bowie also ended up with 26 points and nine rebounds for the Tigers while Damien Scott contributed 19 points and four boards, and Kyle Armour nine points, eight assists and four boards.
The Redbacks will now prepare for their first Men’s SBL Grand Final since 1999 chasing a first championship since 1997, and fourth overall.
It is, meanwhile, another heartbreaking playoff exit for the Tigers for a third straight season with a team that looked capable of being a real contender.
Redbacks coach Nik Lackovic was there in 1997 as a player for his club’s last championship triumph and he couldn’t help but be blown away by the happiness seen at a jam-packed Belmont Oasis on Friday night with them having qualified for the Grand Final.
“We were playing a ridiculously tough, talented well-prepared team and then to see everybody here and see what it meant to everyone from our life members, previous players and coaches, the families and supporters makes you happy to know you can put a smile on their faces,” Lackovic said.
“There’s a real sense of exhilaration to be able to understand what it means for us as a club and players to make the Grand Final, but we are partially satisfied and not fully satisfied yet.
“It’s a significant step for us as a club and there were so many old faces here tonight and to look around and see the sheer joy in their faces to know we’ve taken the first step to a big goal we set ourselves at the start of the year is rewarding.
“I’m just so proud of the players with the way they stuck together and had a belief in each other, and what we’re about. Over 40 minutes they were able to finish off the job.”
Lackovic was always content in the knowledge that his full squad should be available come the business end of the season and the impact of that was shown Friday night with the number of strong contributors they had.
“Part of what we talked about at the start of the year knowing we wouldn’t have our full repertoire of players, tonight was the first time we’ve had our full contingent of 12 players together but the growth and development of the group, and belief and culture of the team has been great to see,” he said.
“Our bench was significant in this win. KB had seven points in 10 minutes but then to close the ball out and put the ball in the hands of Marshall Nelson, Shawn Redhage and Lee Roberts down the stretch, out of the 32 points in the fourth quarter those three combined for 27 of those.
“Playoffs is about making big plays and having guys step up in big moments and we are really comfortable knowing we have a number of guys who can do some pretty special things for us.”
While happy to make the Grand Final, Lackovic has no doubt his players are motivated to go one step better against either the Wolfpack or Buccs.
“It’s all about preparation now. Even when we were down 15-2 in this game, we just had to continue through the process and after this, I’ve told them that as of tomorrow we start preparing physically with our rehab and mental preparation to know what their homework will be depending on who we play,” Lackovic said.
“It’s all about preparation and there’s two really talented, tough teams fighting it out tomorrow night and maybe Sunday so for us this is only half of what we set out to do at the start of the year. The guys are committed to understanding that whilst they are exciting by getting to this point, they’re not satisfied.”
MEN’S SBL GAME 2 SEMI FINAL RESULTS
Perth Redbacks 101 defeated Willetton Tigers 92 (Redbacks win 2-0)
MEN’S SBL GAME 2 SEMI FINAL FIXTURES
Joondalup City Wolves v Geraldton Buccaneers – Joondalup Basketball Stadium 7.30pm (Buccs lead 1-0)
MEN’S SBL GAME 3 SEMI FINAL FIXTURES (if required)
Joondalup City Wolves v Geraldton Buccaneers – Joondalup Basketball Stadium 12pm
Photo by Sports Imagery Australia