Battle of the Bass Strait as Melbourne and Tassie advance

THE biggest night in recent memory in the National Basketball League (NBL) lived up to the hype, with Melbourne United and the Tasmania JackJumpers booking a spot in the deciding series after claiming wins in their respective game threes.

Both semi-final series went to deciding games, which took place in consecutive fashion in a massive double-header to determine the grand finalists.

First up, United held off the valiant efforts of the Illawarra Hawks, before the JackJumpers used tactics to defeat the Perth Wildcats. Now the winning sides will face off in a best of five series for the ultimate prize in the coming weeks.

Melbourne United (100) def. Illawarra Hawks (94)

The scoreboard might be a bit flattering towards the visitors given they did serious damage to the deficit in the final minute, but Melbourne still did enough to advance to the Championship Round at John Cain Arena on Wednesday night.

United stormed out of the gates, opening up a 15-point lead in the first quarter with some dominance driving the ball inside. Luke Travers got off to a hot start and it looked likely Melbourne would run away with proceedings early in the match.

However, the Hawks continued to show their never-say-die attitude, fighting back late in both the first and second quarters to ensure they only trailed by seven points at the main break. Given both teams’ ability to claw back into games, it was a small enough margin to ensure the match remained interesting.

United’s big guns provided a spark in the third quarter, exploding on a 9-0 run with Travers registering seven of those as the margin shot back out to 16 points. Melbourne looked in control for most of the second half, until Illawarra started knocking down some deep threes with time winding down. However, the damage was already done as United held on for a six-point win.

Reigning NBL Best Defensive Player Shea Ili had a season-high 22 points on 6/12 shooting from the field, doing plenty of damage from the free throw line too, going 8/12 from the charity stripe. Travers had a double-double of 15 points and 11 rebounds as well in another promising showing from the NBA hopeful.

For Illawarra, Sam Froling fought bravely to cap off an excellent series from the big man, posting a game-high 23 points on 7/9 shooting from the field and 9/12 from the free throw line.

Melbourne United big man Jo Lual Acuil in action against the Hawks. Photo: Getty Images

Perth Wildcats (84) def. Tasmania JackJumpers (100)

Despite being in one of the most intimidating arenas in the NBL, the JackJumpers were dominant en route to a 16-point win over the Perth Wildcats at RACE Arena later on Wednesday night, booking a second appearance in the Championship Series in their short three year NBL history.

After losing game one of the series in the same venue, the JackJumpers were calm from the opening tip, not letting the vocal Perth crowd play a role early on and keeping their noses in front. Although Perth and Bryce Cotton threatened to make a big charge, Tasmania held a two-point lead at the first break.

The second quarter saw the JackJumpers grab control of the match, largely on the back of game two hero and star guard Milton Doyle. He scored 13 points in the second period alone, creating space from the opposition with his smooth dribble as Tasmania’s lead shot out to double-digits. At the main change, the JackJumpers held a nine-point lead and looked in control of the match, leaving the Wildcats with plenty of adjustments to make.

Having found plenty of success scoring the ball inside in the first half, Tasmania found its stroke as a unit in the third quarter, knocking down some classy jumpshots from both two and three-point territory. Suddenly, the visitors led by 17 points and it would take something special from Perth to keep its season alive.

The JackJumpers did not let up, never giving Perth a sniff and maintaining a double-digit lead for the remainder of the match. Tasmania’s preparation for the match led it to a commanding 16-point victory to move on to the big dance.

Doyle flirted with a double-double in another big performance, producing 24 points and nine assists in a tremendous offensive performance. He had plenty of help from teammate Jack McVeigh, who had a season-best 27 points in the elimination clash, proving efficient from behind the arc, making four shots on five attempts.

For the Wildcats, four-time MVP Cotton finished with 21 points, but only put up nine shots for the match. The Wildcats needed to get the seven-time scoring champion some better looks, and his passive performance had a big say on the result.

Game one of the Championship Series will take place at John Cain Arena on Sunday afternoon.

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