SINCE arriving to coach the Perry Lakes Hawks, Matt Parsons has been working hard on the group’s toughness and ability to win the 50-50 contests and he knows that’s never going to be as important as this semi-final battle with the Rockingham Flames.
Perry Lakes finished the 2018 regular season on a 12-game winning streak to finish in fourth position before beating the Lakeside Lightning 112-79 in Game 1 of the quarter finals.
But the Lightning hit back to win Game 2 at Lakeside last Saturday night to force the decider back on Sunday at Bendat Basketball Centre where the Hawks had to show strong resilience to come away with the 92-87 to advance to the semi finals.
Parsons was proud of the fighting qualities shown by his group but he knows that has to go up another level again against Greg Hire, Kevin White and the Flames starting with Game 1 this Saturday night at Bendat Basketball Centre.
The Hawks are in their first Men’s SBL semi-final series since 2013 having suffered three successive heartbreaking quarter-final defeats where as the No. 8 seed they took it right up to the minor premiers but ultimately were knocked out by the Joondalup Wolves, Cockburn Cougars and Willetton Tigers.
Parsons coached one of those teams to eliminate them as he led the Cougars to a championship in 2016 and from the outside looking in, once he took over as coach for the 2017 season he felt their toughness and ability to compete relentlessly on each possession was an area that could improve.
He was happy with the progress made in that area in 2017 even though they came up short again in the first round – but only just after taking Game 1 against Willetton and then being in a winning position in Game 2 at home before the Tigers were saved on the buzzer by Ray Turner before going on to win Game 3 at home.
It was still an area he felt could be improved on further and the recruitment of rugged veteran guard Dan Thomas was a factor in that. And even though his season is over through injury, his impact in setting the tone for the Hawks this season is certainly noticeable.
Parsons has been pleased with his team’s fighting qualities now and with the likes of Ben Purser, Rob Cassir and Travis Hayto having that relentless attitude, he’d back his group against any other.
“It’s a progress and we look at how to get better, and people have said about this club in the past that it might not have that toughness,” Parsons said.
“But we’ve spent a lot of time last year doing the little gritty things that have to be done and become a habit like diving on the loose balls, the 50-50 wins, the box outs and all of that. It had to be retrained into these guys and they’ve been absolutely accepting of that and you can probably see the difference in a game like this.
“In the last two minutes, there was about three or four 50-50 balls that we won when we needed to win them. The difference from an outsider looking before I came here was that we probably weren’t desperate enough to want them, now we can’t question that. Now it’s an instant reaction to win those 50-50 balls and create that contest.”
Parsons is fully aware of just how physical the semi-final series is going to be against Rockingham. With the Flames led by NBL veterans Greg Hire and Kevin White, and possessing dogged locals like Ryan Godfrey, Jarryd Griffin and Luke Roberts, he knows what’s coming the Hawks’ way.
“For me personally it will be all about revving them up at training this week. It’s really important that we come out with the intensity to get through the little nitty, gritty stuff and ride the ship to be fine with that,” he said.
“We know what’s coming, we know all the little niggly things they’ll be doing and throwing our way, and we encourage our guys to stay in the moment and enjoy the challenge.
“Both clubs have long histories and we know that they are going to be desperate, but it will come down to the team who wants it the most. They are going to throw everything they’ve got and we will try to sustain that and throwing everything back at them.
“We are lucky we have home court advantage and that’s due to the work we did in the back end of the season to get a higher seed. They did a job last week and right now they knocked off the No. 1 seed so they are the No. 1 seed in their place.”
Given Perry Lakes had won 13 straight matches leading into last weekend, it was a bit of an unknown how they would respond to losing again once they went down in Game 2 at Lakeside on Saturday night.
But Parsons learned plenty about his group with how much losing hurt them and how well they came out to respond little over 12 hours later.
“Real true competitors probably hate losing more than they hate winning,” Parsons said.
“That’s probably where we stood after Saturday night, we weren’t happy to lose and we did the work to get ready for Sunday and we had to live with the reality that we didn’t play the way we wanted to.
“The ability to critique the wrongs is probably that competitive edge and we don’t like losing more than we like winning.”
Midway through the season and there was certainly no way to expect that the Hawks would be in the semi finals despite having added reigning MVP Jacob Holmen and rising star and Perth Wildcats development player Lochlan Cummings to their squad.
They had lost five games straight at one point with playoffs anything but guaranteed at that stage.
Looking back now and Parsons feels it was a blessing in disguise for his team having to go through that and learning a lot about themselves in the process, but that’s only with hindsight showing it led to a 13-game winning streak once things began to click.
“We look at the five-game losing streak for us as our measuring stick. We learned so much in that period about ourselves and about rotations, where our strength spots are and about our roles and responsibilities,” he said.
“You can often find yourself finding solutions to issues during the bad patches. We went back to the basics and made sure our offensive sets and structures were pretty simple and we really focused on rotations and where we were going to come, and where the help is.
“It was a blessing in disguise that five-game losing streak for us but I think we had two games straight out of that against East Perth and Mandurah where we knuckled down and just had to win, and found a way to do it.
“The belief built from there and we’ve been doing that at the back end of the season where teams have thrown plenty of punches at us and we’ve been able to ride them.
“I’m pretty happy with how we fought in Game 2 even though we couldn’t quite come back and then in Game 3 it was a mirror image where they threw a punch back at us and we had to withstand that and hold on, which we did well.”
There were certainly challenges for the Hawks in the quarter finals too despite the emphatic nature of the Game 1 win at home to the tune of 33 points.
Ryan Smith top-scored that game with 22 points but then injury forced him to be sidelined last weekend but Parsons always had faith even if the back court was a little light on in experience minus Smith and Thomas.
“We are asking people in this series to play more minutes than they probably were used to and we called upon Cooper Hamilton and Jordan Hickert this weekend to kind of cover what we were missing in our rotation, and both did a superb job,” Parsons said.
“Depth is everything and if you get the guys wanting to play for the jersey and the emblem on that it’s going to make a big difference, and both Cooper and Jordy wanted that. Opportunities come and sometimes you don’t know when, but you just have to be ready for it and they were.
“But Smithers is a big part of what we’re doing and he keeps the driving lanes open because he’s such a deadeye shooter. We’ll welcome him back and all reports are that he’ll be available so we’ll work him back into it.”