JUST TWO teams remain in the hunt for the 2022/23 NBL championship after the semi-finals wrapped on Sunday afternoon.
Both final four matchups went to three games, as the best sides locked horns for a spot in the Championship Series and delivered some exciting action in the most crucial time of the season.
Both series were decided late in the final quarter of game three, with some of the biggest names standing up with match-winning outings.
Although just two sides advanced, there were still some big performances that came from the vanquished teams, while the Championship Series should see plenty more electric performances.
As is the case every week, Rookie Me Central will be highlighting the three strongest individual outings, with plenty making quite the impact in their respective matches.
The best players tend to stand up in the biggest moments, with Brown Jr. taking over his side’s game three clash against the Tasmania JackJumpers on Sunday afternoon. The import guard proved to be the difference in the do-or-die match, exploding on the offensive end to inspire his team to a 92-77 victory and a spot in the deciding series.
After Tasmania got off to a red-hot start, Brown Jr. steadied the ship with his consistency at producing even the most unlikely of baskets. Despite the JackJumpers looking to put a hand in his face at every opportunity, the league’s third best scorer on the season got to work and still produced frequent makes.
He led the Breakers to a seven-point lead at the main break with 15 of his own in the first half, but did his best work in crunch time. With Tasmania making one last push with five minutes to play, Brown Jr. scored 11 of New Zealand’s next 13 points to send his side to the deciding series. He finished the match with 32 points, four rebounds and three steals on 10/16 shooting.
The 2022/23 NBL MVP got his side off to the perfect start in game one of the NBL semi-finals against the Cairns Taipans. Cooks dominated from the opening tip in his side’s first postseason outing, stamping his authority on the match and further emphasising his status as the best player of the season.
He finished the opening game with 27 points and 14 rebounds on 11/16 shooting, and while the big man was hampered by an ankle injury in the final two contests, he still had a say in the final result. Many expected him to miss the third and deciding match after sustaining the injury in game two, but he battled through to record a double-double of 11 points and 11 rebounds, as Sydney returned to the Championship Series for the second consecutive season.
Although it was not Cairns’ day as it fell to the Kings in game three, Ayre gave his team a fighting chance with a marvellous performance off the bench. With the likes of Tahjere McCall (3/17 FG) and DJ Hogg (3/8 FG) struggling to make an impact on the offensive end, the Taipans needed someone else to step up and provide a scoring option.
Ayre delivered his best performance of the season, fighting tooth and nail to keep Cairns’ season alive against the best side in the competition. He often found himself on the end of quick passing chains, as the Taipans looked to expose the Kings out of a double-team.
The guard finished with 20 points and four assists in 30 minutes of court time, including nailing four of his eight attempts from behind the arc. With no Keanu Pinder combining with Hogg and McCall’s off night, Ayre was the only reason his side was in the contest until the final quarter.