Hungry Jack's NBL
Studs and Duds: Round 21
At the conclusion of the regular season’s final round, NBL Media’s Liam Santamaria lets us know who made the grade and who deserves a little shade.
They did it!
The remarkable first season of the Tasmania JackJumpers rolls on, as the league’s newest club marches into the playoffs.
The Ants needed three results to go their way in the season’s final round and they got ‘em! Back-to-back losses to Perth? Tick, Their own win over Melbourne? Tick. Can you believe it? The Jackies are in the finals!
“These guys continue to amaze me,” inspirational coach Scott Roth said.
“It’s been an amazing journey… they just keep showing up and playing hard. They’re an amazing group.”
Roth has led his squad brilliantly this season and his efforts are likely to be rewarded this week at the league’s end-of-season awards night.
His players have been brilliant as well. Josh Adams (19 points) and Josh Magette (14 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists) were terrific again this week while MiKyle McIntosh (20 points) had one of his best performances of the season.
The challenge now is to overcome the defending champs in a three-game semi-final series.
Two things we know for sure: the JackJumpers one hundred percent deserve to be there, and My State Bank Arena is going to be PUMPING for Game 2.
The other finalists to go undefeated in Round 21 were the Hawks, who pulled off an impressive road double with victories over Perth and Sydney.
Both were genuine heart-stoppers and the back-to-back victories handed Illawarra their equal highest finish in franchise history as they claimed second spot.
This is a group that was in serious danger of missing the finals midway through the season, so to fight their way back to secure a top-two finish has been a very impressive effort.
Tahjere McCall (Cairns Taipans)
With his record-setting play, McCall turned an end-of-season game between non-playoff opponents into pure entertainment.
The Taipans import piled up a massive 42 points, 10 assists, 4 rebounds and 4 steals on Saturday night, leading his team to a season-ending win and a first-ever season sweep over their Queensland rivals.
It was the highest-scoring performance of the season and the first time a player has ever recorded 40 points and 10 assists during an NBL 40-minute game.
Speaking with the media postgame, there were shades of Jack Nicholson from As Good as it Gets in the comments from Cairns coach Adam Forde.
“He’s a guy that you could build a team around. He would be our Bryce Cotton,” Forde said.
“Different skillset but what he brings defensively, on the offensive end and with on-court leadership, he would make me a better coach. If Tahj is on the team, it makes me look like a better coach.”
McCall then turned to Forde, gazed into his eyes, and said: “That’s maybe the best compliment of my life.” Actually nah, that didn’t happen. Unfortunately.
Xavier Cooks (Sydney Kings)
Cooks surprised everybody with his comments about the officiating at half-time yesterday, but he surprised nobody with his outstanding play across the round.
The NBL’s Shawn Marion filled the box score in both of Sydney’s games as he did all that he could to secure a top-two finish for his squad.
Up in Cairns, Cooks played through foul trouble to notch up 18 and 12 with 6 blocked shots before ending the regular season with a fourth-straight double-double as he posted 20 and 14 against the Hawks.
He’s poised to have a massive impact in the finals.
South East Melbourne Phoenix
Speaking of massive impact, that’s what the Phoenix had yesterday when they outlasted the Wildcats.
Closing out the year with a 2-0 weekend, South East Melbourne created history as they ended Perth’s historic finals streak and, in doing so, elevated Tassie into the finals.
With Xavier Munford (24 points, 9 assists) and Kyle Adnam (14 points) bringing them home, it was a positive way for the Phoenix to end a frustrating season for them overall.
“You don’t want it to be a regretful season and you go out in a bad way,” head coach Simon Mitchell said.
“We shared a struggle but now we shared a victory that we can all take great pride in. We got a little something out of the back end of the season for us, which is nice.”
Oh, and didn’t the Tassie boys love it!
Nick Kyrgios (Team Fordham)
Sydney Kings, Perth Wildcats & Cairns Taipans
While we’re on the topic, big ups to the Kings for the $50,000 they raised yesterday for the Starlight Children’s Foundation, through their Celebrity Game and their ‘Back the Kings for Sick Kids’ initiative. That’s an outstanding effort.
Well done, also, to the Wildcats for supporting Breast Cancer Care WA through their annual ‘Stronger in Pink’ game and the Taipans for supporting the great work of IFYS Foster Care through their annual ‘Black Out’ game.
This kind of work, where teams and players use their platforms to give back to the community, is what it’s all about.
New Zealand Breakers
Lastly, to the Breakers: much love to you guys as you finally return home to reconnect with loved ones.
What your club has had to endure these past two seasons is unprecedented across the entire history of the NBL and your efforts are greatly appreciated. While wins have been hard to come by, all of you – coaches, players and support staff – have carried yourselves with complete professionalism and have never stopped competing. Thank you.
This will sound familiar to long-time readers of this column, but let’s be honest: I’m the real dud in this equation.
Firstly, my work on the analysis board during the Cairns/Brisbane clash this week was a shambles. What began as nice offensive execution by the Taipans finished up looking like a poorly drawn flow chart, with rogue arrows pointing in all kinds of directions.
I also wrote off the JackJumpers, time and time again this year. A finals berth in year one? I, like most others on the mainland, did not see this coming.
But here’s the real reason why I’m in the duds: for placing these teams and players in this section, week after week, throughout the season.
After all, this is a world-class league. It’s one of the best domestic competitions on the planet, full of talented individuals who lay it all on the line every week. There will always be winners and losers – that’s just the nature of competition – and there will always be ups and downs along the way.
And if there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s that it’s very easy to sit on the sidelines and critique.
So, with that in mind, I’d like to express my gratitude to all the players and coaches across the NBL. Thank you for your commitment and hard work and for putting your wonderful talents on display throughout another disrupted regular season.
You’re all studs and I, along with all the regular readers of this column, appreciate your efforts.
Now bring on the finals!
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