THE National Basketball League (NBL) has enjoyed a stellar 2021/22 season, with plenty of storylines and high quality play over the span of six months, and after a ripping campaign, the grand final series is here. It has been an extremely entertaining journey to get here, with the regular season closing in dramatic fashion. Backing it up was a blockbuster finals series, in which fans saw the best player of the season stand up and the competition’s newest team complete the unthinkable and make the big dance.
The two sides are set to lock horns in a best of five series, starting on Friday night, with the ultimate prize up for grabs. They have probably been the best two teams in the back half of the season, so it is shaping up to be an entertaining grand final, with every chance it will go to to five games.
There is plenty to like about the matchup, regardless of the stakes. The season’s best player will face off against the season’s best coach, in what is going to be an enthralling battle. Tasmania has been the cindarella story of 2021/22, making the big dance in its first season in the NBL, but the Kings have been a serious force over the last three months. Both clubs will come in with a fair bit of momentum, but only one can emerge victorious.
How the Kings win
Sydney has been able to get the job done in the second half of the season through the efforts of some of their big guns. Guard Jaylen Adams was recently crowned the competition’s Most Valuable Player, and he showed exactly why in the semi-finals series against the Hawks. Adams hit a number of clutch shots in both games one and two, and was probably the biggest reason why Sydney was able to sweep the series.
He will face a Tassie defence that rotates well at the perimeter, but Adams is elite at getting downhill and creating off the dribble regardless of who is facing him, so he will be a massive factor in the Kings’ chances. Making things even trickier for the JackJumpers, if you somehow manage to quell the influce of the MVP, you still have to deal with Xavier Cooks and Jarell Martin, who can both come out and produce 20+ point double-doubles on any given night.
The Kings have the perfect balance of inside and outside scoring, surrounding their big men with some very capable shooters, and if they get out in transition (as they love to do), then good luck stopping that. It is very easy to see them come out and be at their best in the big dance.
How the JackJumpers win
What a story Tasmania has been in its first campaign. The JackJumpers have gone from a 2-6 record and a likely bottom two finish in the standings, to sneaking into the finals in the last round and doing some serious damage in there. They faced off against the reigning champions and heavy favourite to win it all, and despite losing game one, managed to claw back and claim a couple of famous victories and advance.
Tasmania have become the fans’ team, but will need to bring its absolute best if they are to take down a strong Kings side. Scott Roth did a terrific job and leading his side and finding the weakness in United’s game, which was their offence in the half court. There is no doubt he will be looking to do something similar with Sydney. Much of Tasmania’s offence involves the pick-and-roll, with an early screen often kicking off the offensive possession in the half court, which is where the side does its best work.
Their best chance of getting going on the offensive end will be using these rotations and picks to try and get the Sydney defence off its game and mixed up when rotating. Their defensive intensity will also be a key factor, particularly in slowing down the fast-paced Kings offence, but they did exactly that against Melbourne. If they can turn Sydney into a half-court team too, it will allow their scrambling, scrappy defensive gameplan to work wonders.
Players to watch
As mentioned above, the Kings have a number of stars across the board, all of whom can produce a match-winning effort. However, there are a few players who fly under the radar and can hurt you at any time. With much of the defence collapsing on the likes of Adams, Cooks and Martin, it allows someone like Dejan Vasiljevic to be wide open on the permiter. The young gun has produced excellent shooting performances in the past, but much of the credit goes to his teammates. He can play a massive role in getting Sydney in a winning position, especially if the defence overcompensates with other players.
The JackJumpers have been well-served by the likes of Josh Adams and Jack McVeigh, with the high-profile duo performing on the big stage in the finals thus far. However, one play Roth and his men like to use is to isolate MiKyle McIntosh, who has had a pretty strong postseason too. McIntosh is terrific at attacking his man off the dribble and creating scores at the rim. It was foiled at times by United’s interior defence, but the Kings aren’t as strong in that area, so expect the forward to get the ball in his hands and show no hesitation. It resulted in some matchwinning buckets in the semi’s, and that might happen again here.
Game one kicks off on Friday night at Qudos Bank Arena, with tip-off scheduled for 7:30pm. The action continues down at MyState Bank Arena on Sunday afternoon at 2:30pm, before heading back to Sydney on Wednesday night for game three. If required, games four and five will take place the following Friday and Sunday respectively. It is a jam-packed week of action for any basketball fan, so make sure to tune in to see which of these sides emerges winners.