THE Tasmania JackJumpers have done what many thought to be impossible, and qualify for the National Basketball League (NBL) finals in just their first season in the competition. It all came down to the last round of play, with a number of results needing to go the way of the league’s newest side. There was no shortage of excitement in the final schedule for the 2021/22 season, as a few of the round’s most crucial clashes going right down to the wire, and the top four only being decided in the weekend’s last game. In the end, the Perth Wildcats were forced out after a tense loss and the JackJumpers climbed into the postseason in remarkable fashion.
After the Wildcats lost to the Hawks on Friday night, the door was open for the JackJumpers to jump up a spot in the standings. However, standing in their way was the reigning champs and minor premiers in Melbourne United, with a lot of speculation coming into the game that they would rest a few of their players and make Perth require a win to get into the finals. With the withdrawals of Matthew Dellavedova and Jack White, it looked as if these predictions were coming true. The tricky thing about United is the fact that they have so many stars on their team, so Tasmania still faced a bit of an uphill climb.
It was a back and forth affair for much of the first half, with neither side backing down as an undermanned Melbourne side pushed Tassie in the first half at a sold-out MyState Bank Arena on Saturday night. It was a tie game at the main break, with the game looking likely to go down to the wire. However, a 29-9 third term saw these predictions not come to fruition, as the JackJumpers stormed away with a match-winning lead, doing as much as they could in their pursuit of a finals appearance as they finished the regular season with a 22-point triumph.
For the victors, MiKyle McIntosh led the way on the scoring front with a team-high 20 points, while guard Josh Adams was not far behind with 19 of his own. It was a simply dominant showing from the home side in the second half, with a number of contributors putting Scott Roth‘s plan into action. For United, Caleb Agada took advantage of the extra minutes to finish with 22 points, the most of anyone in the match.
It all came down to Sunday evening’s matchup between the Perth Wildcats and the SEM Phoenix at RAC Arena, with the stakes as high as possible for the home side. The equation was simple for the Wildcats; win and they would kick the JackJumpers out of the finals and qualify, but lose and they would miss the postseason for the first time in 35 years. Without the services of Victor Law (who was ruled out for the remainder of the season with a syndesmosis injury), the challenge got a bit tougher for Perth, but the Phoenix came into the contest out of form a bit. It was an extremely tense way to finish the season, with the game heading into overtime as both sides gave it their all.
The Wildcats looked a small step ahead of their opponents in the first half, with MVP-fancy Bryce Cotton leading the way. If Perth was going to claim the win, then Cotton was the man that needed to fire, and he did as he led the Wildcats to a five-point lead at the end of the first half. The second half saw the script flipped a bit, as the Phoenix rallied in the final two quarters. Mitch Creek gave South East Melbourne a three-point lead with just over a minute to play, but Cotton answered and the match headed to extra time. There were some big buckets in overtime from both sides, with plenty of scoring coming from inside the paint. The Phoenix held a two-point lead in the dying stages of the game, and when Cotton’s game-tying attempt was wayward, Perth’s season came to a stunning end.
For the Phoenix, Xavier Munford closed out an impressive debut season in style with 24 points and nine assists, proving a valuable contributor in the clutch, while Creek chimed in for some big buckets too. For the Wildcats, Cotton gave it his all with 28 points and eight dimes, but some inaccurate shooting from behind the arc prevented his scoring from being even more damaging.
Across the courts
There were a number of eye-catching results in a big final round of action for the 2021/22 season, with a few teams closing out their campaigns in style.
SEM Phoenix (94) def. Adelaide 36ers (91)
Perth Wildcats (77) def. by Illawarra Hawks (82)
Cairns Taipans (112) def. Brisbane Bullets (98)
New Zealand Breakers (60) def. by Adelaide 36ers (93)
Sydney Kings (84) def. by Illawarra Hawks (87)