NBL Finals 2015: Where the Unexpected Happens

 

The road to the playoffs for four NBL clubs has been incredibly varied. One of these teams was seventh on the ladder mid-way through the season while the other stayed top of the ladder for the majority of the season. Two are former recent championship winners and have proven players as finals performers. The question is who will win?

 

Photo by: www.nbl.com.au

Photo by:
www.nbl.com.au

 

Lets look at the contenders of the most hotly contested NBL finals series in years:

 

Cairns Taipans 

 

Photo by: resources3.news.com.au

Coach: Aaron Fearne 

 

Why they can win: 

 

They have been a form side all season and have proved they run deep into their bench. With a vocal home crowd seeing at least two games against the Wildcats, they’ll have a distinctive advantage. Even if they drop their game at Perth Arena, winning their two home games will guarantee them top seeding in the finals and another two games at home in the Grand Finals series. As the town’s only professional sport team, they’ll be desperate to bring home a championship after coming so close in their series against New Zealand a few seasons ago.

 

Where the crack is:

 

Finals pressure will be tested on proven underperformers in big games such as Stephen Weigh, Matthew Burston and Cameron Tragardh. Fearne will also be under pressure as his half court defensive cutting game style is truly put to the test.

 

Mr Clutch:

Photo by: www.taipans.com

Scottie Wilbekin has given Cairns plenty of wins in tight games and is a hot MVP candidate. A crazy dribbler with some sensational finishing ability even when put under serious pressure from the crack league defenders in Damian Martin, Adam Gibson and Cedric Jackson.

 

Mr Pine: 

Photo by: www.resources0.news.com.au

Cameron “Trigger” Tragardh can turn it on offensively and will be crucial to the Taipan’s chances. The step back jumper and post up moves must be monitored otherwise he will make any opposition pay.

 

Mr X-Factor:

Photo by: www.resource0.news.com.au

Torrey Craig the other import can take the game by the scruff of the neck and destroy it for his team. Much like his Grand Final predecessor Ron Dorsey, he is an explosive slasher to the basket and can drop threes in a hurry. He might even win a few games for the Taipans off his back-cut plays for a slam.

 

Mr Depth:

Photo by: www.resources1.news.com.au

The minutes that guard Shaun Bruce gives while Cameron Gliddon and Wilbekin are resting will be crucial. Bruce has emerged as one of the wildcards in Fearne’s pack and his ball control, ability to create crucial baskets might be the difference at the end of key quarters.

 

What we think:

Taipans to beat the Wildcats 2-1 in their series winning both their home games led by their deep rotations. The Wildcats haven’t traveled well and if it goes to three games, it’s tough to see them get up. A 2nd NBL Grand Final appearance for the Taipans and if New Zealand get through, they have the wood over them to claim a historic first NBL championship.

 

 

New Zealand Breakers 

Photo by: www.static01.nyt.com

Coach: Dean Vickerman 

 

Why they can win:

 

They’ve done it before so there is no reason they can’t again. The core team is there from their three-peat with Cedric Jackson back and an improved Corey Webster. The Breakers were tipped as a hot favourite even before the season started and they are around as predicted at the business end of the season. They have one of the best starting fives in the league and a hunger for success after a recession at the bottom.

 

Where the crack is:

 

Do they have the depth in their rotations and will losses at home to contenders Cairns and Adelaide affect their ability to get the job done at home?

 

Mr Clutch:

Photo by: www.images.tvnz.co.nz

Cedric “Action” Jackson has had a stellar return to the NBL and holds the hope for the Breakers. His clutch play in the fourth quarter and ability to score baskets when required make him a most dangerous guard. Jackson was the reason New Zealand won their three peats and those services will be needed once again.

 

Mr Pine: 

Photo by: www.stuff.co.nz

Ekene Ibekwe has crucial minutes off the bench covering for centre Alex Pledger. The explosive import is a beast inside the paint and can throw down a jam that’ll leave the rim rattling. Defensively a huge shot blocker too making him a headache for opposition centres and forwards.

 

Mr X-Factor:

Photo by: www.nbl.com.au

Corey Webster showed in the World Championships that he’s got game. He loves the three ball and must be closely minded by quick-thinking guards. One of the Breakers most improved players, he needs to produce if New Zealand are to go all the way.

 

Mr Depth:

Photo by: www.cdn.3news.co.nz

Rhys Carter has a point to prove after last year’s Grand Final series with the 36ers. He was found wanting on some big open looks and will be keen to sink the big baskets when he gets his minutes.

 

What we think:

 

If New Zealand are to win their way through and contest for the Championship, it’ll come from some Jackson and Thomas Abercrombie brilliance. However if Mika Vukona and Pledger hit likely foul trouble, their bench depth may find them bomb out of the semi-finals without much impact.

 

 

Adelaide 36ers 

Photo by: www.adelaide36ers.com

Coach: Joey Wright

 

Why they can win:

 

Ten is the magic number as the 36ers are on an absolute roll since Christmas. The 36ers are the form team of the NBL having won 10 in a row and having defeated all the contenders in their homes. They run 10 deep into their bench and have so much talent they can rotate until they run the opposition off their feet. And there is last year’s mission to redeem a game three implosion in the Grand Final. Plus there is Jamar Wilson instead of Gary Ervin who struggled under pressure.

 

Where the crack is:

 

The 36ers own worst enemy is themselves and probably Wildcat centre Matthew Knight and Breakers’ Pledger. Their physicality – if allowed to proceed without foul trouble – can unsettle the defensive 36ers front court of Anthony Petrie, Brock Motum, Daniel Johnson and Luke Schenscher. Maybe Gibson’s jump shot under pressure also is a worry when the team has one of its occasional two-minute offensive lapses.

 

Mr Clutch:

Photo by: www.adelaide36ers.com

Brock “Brocktomus Prime” Motum started extremely slowly in the blue and gold of Adelaide but roared to life in the second half of the season. A timely, gutsy signing by the 36ers, Motum has averaged over 20 points per game and has stamped himself as one of the league’s top players. He narrowly missed an NBA contract and has improved his game in all facets. A big strength is his three-point shot to draw the bigs out to the perimeter meaning more scoring opportunities for Mitch Creek and Jamar Wilson.

 

Mr Pine: 

Photo by: www.resources2.news.com.au

The injury to BJ Anthony proved to be a blessing in disguise as it opened a door for the club to get back club MVP Daniel Johnson. DJ has the tools to be a starting five player but has an important role as the club’s finals sixth man. The amazing thing is that DJ hasn’t even hit his straps yet. He is a genuine centre that can shoot like a guard; much like an NBL version of the Dallas Mavericks’ Dirk Nowitzki.

 

Mr X-Factor:

Photo by: www.adelaide36ers.com

Mitch Creek has hit form coming into this playoff series and is now over a series of long-term injuries. The talented athletic swingman can fulfil his potential and be a career-defining player of the finals series. A strong finisher and nightmare for opposition small forwards to contain, his finals series will shape the destiny of the 36ers.

 

Mr Depth:

Photo by: www.resource3.news.com.au

It might only be five minutes of court time where a score is needed and NBL veteran Peter Crawford has to hit his shot. A three-point specialist recruited for a purpose, this is where PC will earn his pay-packet and a possible long awaited championship ring to cap off his career.

 

What we think:

 

With a loaded roster it would be a terrible shame if they failed to pick-up some silverware. We’ve never seen such a motivated 36ers team, and Joey has them primed for success. A hunger for redemption last year along with an in-form run into the playoffs; we think the 36ers will down the Breakers in two games and go on and repeat the amazing run from 1998 (from second half of the ladder to the Championship over the Taipans).

 

 

Perth Wildcats: 

Photo by: www.resource3.news.com.au

Coach: Trevor Gleeson

 

Why they can win:

 

The champions of last year, although seemingly not as strong, still hold some of the key play-makers including tenacious guard Damian Martin, veteran forward Shawn Redhage and big imposing centre Matthew Knight. Their squad, much like the 36ers, is still together from last season and will probably take each game to a third-game decider being almost a sure winner at home. It may be the last chance for a few regular Wildcats to add some silverware as their window appears to be closing.

 

Where the crack is:

 

Unfortunately, DeAndre Daniels is no James Ennis, despite the fans expecting him to offer a similar impact. Daniels is more of a role-player meaning the scoring element has to come from somewhere else. If opposition teams shutdown Jermaine Beal and Redhage goes missing for patches, where will the scores come from?

 

Mr Clutch:

Photo by: www.smh.com.au

Jermaine “Dolla” Beal was last year’s Grand Final Series MVP and will be closely minded by the other teams’ best defenders. NBA style three-pointers remain a threat but his ability to drive on the 45 and lose the defender creates open space for the kick pass in and a roll out for an open jumper.

 

Mr Pine: 

Photo by: www.wildcats.com.au

Greg Hire could not have made a more timely return from injury for the Wildcats. His one per-centers on the boards and ability to create a play defensively will be crucial in big games. Watch out for his pop out to the three-point line for a crowd and team lifting basket.

 

Mr X-Factor:

Photo by: www.nbl.com.au

Damian Martin is the player that can decide the NBL championship for all contenders. The job he does on limiting the impact of each team’s best guard is crucial to his side’s success. His point scoring output on top of this, and rebounding against bodies much bigger than his means the “Bodyguard” has the ability to sway the game in the Wildcats’ favour at home or on the road.

 

Mr Depth:

Photo by: www.zimbio.com

If Drake U’u has an impact on the game in the limited minutes he plays, he can get Perth in to a good position for a charge at playoff wins. Ball control and hitting his shot will be important while Beal and Martin sub out of the game. Costly turnovers however may give the opposition handy breaks heading into the crunch time of the game.

 

What we think:

 

Perth have the tools to win a championship, especially if they draw their arch-rivals – the 36ers – again in the finals. However finishing fourth means they would need to win four road games at least to win the title. Home floor advantage to the Breakers and the 36ers see a bridge too far this season, but they can be satisfied they have made the NBL finals a record 29 times in their history. Even if they overcome Cairns, we can’t see them overcoming the other winner of the finals series.

 

Written by Tristan “Air-T” Prentice

 

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