Final six locked in after thrilling conclusion
THE NBL wrapped up the 2022/23 home and away season with a nail-biting final round, with the finals and play-in tournament now cemented after the weekend’s results.
Round 18 of the season had plenty of drama as almost every match had finals implications with a number of sides competing for a play-in or top two spot.
The race for the top six went down to the final play of the season, with the last match of the round deciding who got the sixth and final position in the play-in.
Things kicked off on Thursday night with the New Zealand Breakers edging closer to the top two by taking down the Illawarra Hawks, putting all the pressure on an undermanned Cairns Taipans side, who suddenly lost control of their own destiny.
Friday saw the Adelaide 36ers keep themselves as a mathematical chance of making the postseason after claiming a stunning win over the minor champions in the Sydney Kings, before the Taipans did all they could in terms of finishing second by downing the Perth Wildcats in an impressive road win.
This ensured the Wildcats needed to upset the Kings in the final match of the season in order to make finals if all other results went as expected.
Kicking off Saturday’s action, Tasmania JackJumpers locked in fourth spot in the standings after handing the Hawks a second consecutive loss for the final round in convincing fashion. However, the news was not all positive for the league’s newest team, with star guard Josh Magette essentially ruled out for the entire finals fixture after sustaining a suspected broken cheekbone and fractured eye socket.
The excitement was not wrapped for Saturday just yet, with the Breakers snatching a thrilling overtime victory over the Brisbane Bullets, despite the latter delivering a valiant performance in their final performance of the season. The win secured second place for New Zealand, who will now advance through to the semi-final.
Sunday was the last day of the season, but also the most exciting. Firstly, Melbourne United did all they could to sneak into sixth spot, ending Adelaide’s season with a nine-point win. Not only was the result crucial, but the percentage was also set to play a role in deciding Melbourne’s fate. Rayjon Tucker hit a three-pointer in the dying seconds of the match to give United the best chance of keeping out the Wildcats.
The final match of the season was also the deciding game, with the clash between Perth and Sydney set to be the critical factor in the final top-six spot. The Wildcats needed to win by 11 points to make up the percentage on United, and in a see-sawing affair against the ladder-leaders, led by as much as 21 points in the final term.
The Kings may have been resting the likes of Xavier Cooks and Derrick Walton Jr, but they were not giving up without a fight. Sydney got the margin back to single-digits, putting the RAC Arena crowd on edge. However, after a tense final few minutes, the Wildcats scraped home with a winning margin of 12 points to sneak into sixth spot.
Next up is the play-in, which will take place on Thursday night with a blockbuster double-header.
The first match will see the SEM Phoenix host the Wildcats at John Cain Arena in an elimination game, while the Taipans and the JackJumpers will lock horns for a spot in the semi-final against the Breakers, with the losing side set to face the winner of the earlier match.