THERE was just the one game on Friday night to open the Men’s SBL playoffs and it was quite the battle with the defending champion Perth Redbacks prevailing by five points over the Stirling Senators.
It is the opening weekend of the SBL Finals for 2018 with the Game 1 match ups in the respective quarter-final series’ taking place.
There was just one of those on Friday night and it took place at Belmont Oasis and in front of a good atmosphere with a strong crowd, the Perth Redbacks and Stirling Senators put on quite the show.
That’s no surprise given the amount of talent and depth on either side, but it’s a game that went right down to the wire and in the end it was the Redbacks who responded best in the fourth quarter to claim the 114-109 victory and a one-nil series lead over the Senators.
The other Game 1 match ups now take place on Saturday night with the Perry Lakes Hawks playing the Lakeside Lightning at Bendat Basketball Centre, the Joondalup Wolves facing the Willetton Tigers at HBF Arena and the Rockingham Flames hosting the Geraldton Buccaneers at Mike Barnett Sports Complex.
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With both teams having won against each other during the regular season with squads genuinely believing they can win a championship in 2018, it set the stage for a terrific quarter-final match between the third and sixth seeds from the regular season.
Just looking at the talent involved with NBL players from last season Cody Ellis and Caleb Davis, former NBL players Corban Wroe, Joel Wagner, Shawn Redhage, Michael Vigor and Jackson Hussey, quality imports Lee Roberts, Mo Barrow, Justin King and Robert Anshila, and promising youngsters Zac Gattorna, Ash Litterick and Jayden Coburn.
Game 1 certainly delivered and set the stage for what could be an even more fascinating Game 2 next Friday at Warwick Stadium, and Game 3 if required back at Belmont Oasis on Saturday.
It sure was a frantic opening to the game with both teams catching fire from the field. That saw them combine for 73 points in the first quarter but it was the Senators who held a 40-33 quarter-time advantage on the back of 11 Caleb Davis points in just over the last two minutes.
The intensity remained high and the Redbacks clawed back over the second and third quarter to head into three quarter-time with scores all square with the Senators at 93-apiece.
The Redbacks began to pull away with a Michael Vigor basket, Mo Barrow three, Shawn Redhage free-throw and Jackson Hussey layup in an 8-0 to give them a 101-95 lead.
The Senators kept coming but the Redbacks continued to answer with a Ben Smith triple putting them up 106-99 with 3:30 remaining.
That led to an eventful couple of possessions with Lee Roberts missing a wide-open dunk, Justin King turning the ball over and Hussey missing an open layup before eventually King scored for Stirling to make it a three-point ball with just over two minutes remaining.
But the Redbacks responded with threes to Barrow and Smith, and despite a couple more nervy moments ultimately that sealed the eventual five-point win.
It was a superb shooting performance by the Redbacks going 40/75 from the field at 53 per cent, 15/27 from downtown at 55 per cent and 19/21 at 90 per cent.
They also had 51 rebounds to 40, but the Senators just kept fighting and giving themselves a chance and will take heart from forcing the Redbacks into 18 turnovers and getting close despite the shooting of the defending champions.
Redbacks coach Nik Lackovic was proud of the way his team responded and went up another level to go with everything the Senators threw at them.
“The level of play went up not one or two notches, but three or four or five notches from the regular season and it’s ideally not the way we want to win a playoff game, but I commend our guys on having the courage to make big plays down the stretch,” Lackovic said.
“We’ve prepared and built a team that has options at certain stages with certain line-ups and the playoffs is about having guys who can close out quarters and close out games.
“Effectively you need shot makers and play makers, and we had some guys who made some extremely good decisions down the stretch but we also didn’t close the game out ideally how we wanted to.
“But Stirling threw everything at us and I have to tip my hat to them, they hit some tough shots and we were there on a lot of them. But they kept throwing stuff at us and we stayed calm, made some adjustments and this is a team that’s going to challenge our thinking. That was as interesting a Game 1 of a playoff series I’ve ever been part of.”
Last year’s Grand Final MVP Lee Roberts was outstanding for the Redbacks with 30 points, 14 rebounds, four assists and two blocks on shooting 10/21 from the floor, 3/7 from long range and 7/7 from the foul line.
Ben Smith added 19 points, three rebounds and three assists while nailing 5/7 from downtown. Jackson Hussey also had 19 points, eight rebounds and six assists with Shawn Redhage contributing 13 points, seven boards and five assists.
Michael Vigor also had 13 points and nine rebounds in his 200th SBL appearance while Mo Barrow did a tremendous defensive job on Caleb Davis as well as having 14 points and four assists including hitting 4/7 from three-point range.
Captain Joel Wagner also had six points and six assists for the Redbacks.
Caleb Davis still top-scored for the Senators with 25 points, four rebounds and four assists shooting 8/16 from the floor, 5/11 from deep and 4/5 from the foul line.
Cody Ellis also finished with 18 points and three rebounds, Robert Anshila 16 points and 10 boards, Corban Wroe 16 points and 10 assists, Ash Litterick 13 points and Justin King 13 points and six assists.
Lackovic was delighted with plenty of what he saw from his Redbacks team and how many of them stood up to make a strong impact.
“They will make us a smarter group and that’s what playoffs are about. We accept that challenge and understand they are a deep team who are well coached and present a lot of different line-ups and guys who can make shots off the bounce and from the three,” Lackovic said.
“We’ve got some guys who enjoy that challenge and I thought Maurice tonight, after he picked up a couple of early fouls and three in the first half, was huge down the stretch in the fourth quarter at both ends of the floor.
“Jackson’s ability to make big plays at the basket and finding shooters, and trusting guys on the floor was critical for us in that fourth quarter. And Lee carried us in that first half with the energy be brought and I thought Mike showed he’s that guy who just doesn’t make errors.
“He was great for us tonight as well and Shawn was super consistent in just playing at a high level of intensity. He’s a 38-year-old who plays with a boyish ambition out there like it’s the first time he’s played a game.
“Listening to him talk to the guys with the enthusiasm and passion that he has, it’s why you love playing at this end of the season.”
MEN’S SBL FIXTURES – QUARTER FINALS WEEK 1
GAME 1 (BEST OF 3)
Perth Redbacks (3) 114 defeated Stirling Senators (6) 109
Perry Lakes Hawks (4) v Lakeside Lightning (5) – Bendat Basketball Centre 7.00pm
Joondalup Wolves (2) v Willetton Tigers (7) – HBF Arena 7.00pm
Rockingham Flames (8) v Geraldton Buccaneers (1) – Mike Barnett Sports Complex 8.00pm