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R19 Wrap: Records tumble on Finals eve

The Swisse NBL Finals spots are finally set, with Melbourne, Perth, Illawarra and New Zealand left to fight it out for the grand prize. The Breakers (now five wins in a row) have experienced some kind of roller coaster over the past two months, but slammed home their Championship credentials with back-to-back wins over Melbourne this week. Meanwhile, Perth took their B-team to Sydney, and the Crocs and Kings fought out a record-breaker up in North Queensland. Sydney Kings 103 def Perth Wildcats 77, Sydney Olympic Park                      With semi-final spots yet to be locked in, the final regular season round claimed its first victim right off the bat as the lowly Kings crushed an undermanned Perth Wildcats side. The ‘Cats opted for fresh legs over a shot at the No. 1 seed, leaving stars Nathan Jawai, Jermaine Beal, Damian Martin and Casey Prather at home to prepare for Sunday’s clash against the Sixers. They were made to pay as Sydney did what they liked offensively, scoring 59 points to half time. Marcus Thornton all but put the game out of reach with a three-pointer midway through the third term but the Kings wanted more, extending it a further 11 points to a game-high 27-point margin late in the final quarter. Josh Childress made his mark all over the court for Sydney with 25 points, 11 rebounds, four assists and two blocks; while Perth had all five starters score in double figures, led by Matt Knight’s 15. BOX SCORE   Townsville Crocodiles 85 def Cairns Taipans 68, Townsville Entertainment Centre The Townsville Crocs put the bite on their long-time rivals in the final Reptile Rumble of the season. Cairns looked out of sorts for the bulk of the night, after New Zealand shattered their shot at semi-finals in last week’s game across the ditch. Thursday’s win made it three home victories in a row for the young Crocs, and they did it in style. While hanging tough for a bulk of the night, the eye test said Cairns were up against it from the very start. It took two quarters of basketball, but the banks burst when Townsville put seven-straight points on the board to lead 49-40 two minutes into the third term. Every Croc put in the work to extend the margin to 15 before three-quarter time, and Townsville coasted to the finish line – getting the margin to 22 at one stage on a Mitch Young throwdown. Omar Samhan led the Crocs with 14 points (including eight rebounds), but Snake’s captain Cameron Gliddon had a game-high 16. BOX SCORE   New Zealand Breakers 100 def Melbourne United 63, North Shore Events Centre After Perth’s loss on Wednesday this fixture was a dead rubber for Melbourne, and it showed: Stars Chris Goulding, Daniel Kickert and Hakim Warrick did not make the trip to Auckland. The Breakers received word of Melbourne’s ‘B-team’ just prior to tip-off, but went about their business with striking precision and intensity despite the distraction. Friday was the second time New Zealand has posted 100 points in a game this season, and they did it easily. Shooting guard Corey Webster tallied the highest minutes (23), as even Breakers youngsters Shea Ili and Finn Delaney got some decent court time. For Melbourne, it was a matter of giving the national audience a look into the future. Kyle Adnam shot 18 times (for a team-high 16 points) and lesser-known guys like Tohi Smith-Milner and Emmanuel Golong featured prominently, with the least-played United player clocking 12:40. Adnam was the only United player in double figures, while NZ managed five, led by Charles Jackson’s 18. BOX SCORE   Illawarra Hawks 106 def Adelaide 36ers 95, Win Entertainment Centre After third spot was locked in last week, Illawarra had precisely zero to play for; but unlike Perth and Melbourne, chose not to sacrifice form for fitness. The full contingent turned up against the Sixers, which were fighting for their post-season life – needing to win both of their games and New Zealand to lose on Sunday to make the semis. It just didn’t come together for the visitors, with their desperation and intensity clearly ill-directed. Not one minute into the game a disagreement broke out between multiple players. Jerome Randle (who returned from injury), Anthony Petrie and AJ Ogilvy were all hit with unsportsmanlike fouls on the play, which – after free throws – saw Illawarra up 7-0 just 50 seconds into the game. Adelaide battled to get within one point early in the third quarter, but they simply could not stop the Illawarra juggernaut which has hit the century mark three of their past four home games. Led by Ogilvy’s 17 points Illawarra shared the rock, with 22 assists, while Adelaide managed just 11 and were paced by Daniel Johnson’s 20 points. BOX SCORE   Townsville Crocodiles 126 def Sydney Kings 123, Townsville Entertainment Centre Basketball fans across Australia were treated to a record-breaking offensive night, as the Crocs and Kings combined to score the most points in an NBL game since December 2008 (933 games ago). A game that meant so little gave us so much theatre – including over a dozen dunks (highlighted by Jordan Vandenberg’s devastating two-handers), clutch shots, large scoring runs, 25 three-pointers and downright dirty rejections. One block from Jordair Jett was sent back with so much fire that it made a security guard manning an entrance to court take evasive action. Up 19 points with 8:29 remaining, the Crocs fell victim to the type of comeback they have become famous for. From that moment the Kings made 10 of their next 11 field shots – including a ferocious Vandenberg slam and a lucky banked three-pointer by Josh Childress. Angus Brandt connected on a couple of free throws to put the Kings up 106-104 with 1:38 remaining, but the Crocs found their way to the foul line on multiple occasions. Corey Maynard made both from the line to give Townsville a three-point lead at the death, but Marcus Thornton stepped up with a triple in the final seconds to force overtime. It was the highest scoring OT period in NBL history (31 points), and was broken wide open by back-to-back threes from Jett and Clint Steindl to stretch the margin to seven early in the period. Jason Cadee could not hit the OT2-forcing three as Townsville took the three-point win. BOX SCORE   New Zealand Breakers 70 def Melbourne United 68, Hisense Arena Melbourne United brought the wow factor to Hisense Arena on Sunday afternoon but for every ‘ooh and ahh’ moment, the Championship-hardened Breakers matched it with high-calibre basketball plays. Before the game United gave the packed arena a never-before-seen 3D projection show which turned the hardwood into a canvas for a series of animations, including player introductions. The game itself was a defensive player’s dream, with both sides mitigating their opponent’s high-power offences. New Zealand showed why they are just as good a shot as any team, dominating the decisive rebound count 48-31. Both sides shot in the 30s percentage-wise, but Melbourne shot 14 more foul shots than NZ, yet could only make 62 per cent. The final game of the regular season could put fear into fans of the League leaders, as they could only manage 14 points in the paint all game. Tai Wesley posted a game-high 23 points, while Chris Goulding had 22. BOX SCORE   Perth Wildcats 100 def Adelaide 36ers 84, Perth Arena Two years ago these teams got together on Valentine’s Day, and boy were there fireworks… just not the usual kind. It will forever be a chapter in the NBL’s narrative. Both sides got up close and personal in one of the more confronting incidents in League history, with Adelaide coach Joey Wright squaring up to two members of Perth’s coaching staff – head coach Trevor Gleeson and assistant Adam Tatalovich. Both clubs were whacked with fines for breaching code of conduct, and the news media had a field day. Sunday evening was a little tamer, but tensions did threaten to escalate on more than one occasion, with Sixer Anthony Petrie and ‘Cat Greg Hire the common denominators in small disputes throughout the game. After resting the bulk of their stars against Sydney earlier in the week, Perth had the full squadron back on deck and they were certainly needed after Adelaide led by eight at half time. Perth’s scoring was shared evenly, with six players in double digits (both Beal and Prather top-scoring on 15), while Adelaide had three in double figures led by Mitch Creek. BOX SCORE The Swisse NBL Finals series kicks off right away, with each semi-final playing twice this week. Melbourne and New Zealand (at Hisense Arena) gets things started on Thursday, while Perth and Illawarra battle in the west on Friday. It’s a quick turnaround for both clubs, with the Breakers and United meeting back over in New Zealand on Saturday, and the second Perth-Illawarra game at the Win Entertainment Centre on Sunday afternoon.
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