Jackies jump into semi-finals after clipping Hawks’ wings

THE 2023/24 National Basketball League (NBL) play-in tournament started with a bang, with the Tasmania JackJumpers blowing out the Illawarra Hawks by 16 points at MyState Bank Arena on Wednesday night.

The two highest ranked sides in the play-in tournament went head to head for the first spot in the postseason, and it was set to be a tantalising clash. The JackJumpers came into the game in some excellent form with a four-game winning streak, while the Hawks have been the fairytale team of the season, turning around a 2-7 start to the fixture to lock in fourth spot in the final round.

With two sides that love to play at a fast pace, it was the JackJumpers that proved too strong on their home court. The MyState Bank Arena crowd were rocking as the home side opened up a massive lead in the first half and never looked back from there.

The game started with both sides losing key players to injury in the opening minutes. For Tasmania, Marcus Lee went down with a shoulder injury and did not return for the remainder of the match after getting tangled up with Sam Froling under the basket. Although Lee is not one of Tassie’s stars, it affected the big man rotation for the JackJumpers and forced more minutes towards his teammates.

Illawarra may not have lost Gary Clark for the entirety of the game, but the star forward was clearly hampered after slipping and twisting his knee. After being named to the All-NBL First Team in recent weeks, Clark has emerged as the Hawks’ best player, and not being at 100 per cent hindered the team as a whole.

The JackJumpers broke away at the end of the first term, with star center Will Magnay leading the way. He was involved in almost every possession as the hosts took a 12-point lead into the first break, breaking the shackles after a close start to the match.

The Hawks fought back in the second term to make things interesting, with Clark forcing his own involvement in the game despite being banged up. Tasmania managed to open up an 18-point lead at the halfway point of the period, but Illawarra’s resilience was on display and it only trailed by seven at the main break.

The margin remained unaffected after an armwrestle of a third quarter, with both sides going on scoring bursts that were soon answered by the other team. With the deficit sitting at seven points still, the Hawks were certainly within striking distance.

However, the home crowd erupted as the JackJumpers delivered a 22-13 final period to slam the door shut and advance to the semi-finals next week.

Magnay was by far the standout for a usually balanced Tasmania side, stamping his authority as one of the best bigs in the game with a massive showing on the big stage. He delivered a career-high 25 points in a crucial game for the JackJumpers, along with 10 rebounds and four blocks. Magnay was flagged as one of the most important players in the entire postseason, and he delivered in his first test.

Despite clearly carrying an injury, Clark still led the way for the Hawks with 21 points and 10 rebounds in a brave effort.

The JackJumpers will face off against the Perth Wildcats in the semi-finals, with that series set to kick off on Friday night, while the Hawks get a second chance to advance when they take on the New Zealand Breakers on Monday night in an elimination game.

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