Win or go home; How each team fared from the NBL play-in

THE NBL held its first ever play-in tournament over the weekend, with teams placed third through sixth pitted against one another to secure the final two spots in the postseason.

The top-two sides were locked in at the conclusion of the final round, but three play-in games (two elimination) were played to determine third and fourth position. It was brought in this season after success in overseas competitions such as the NBA.

What followed were three enthralling matches, with every side giving it their all to try and keep their respective campaigns alive. In the end, only two sides could make it through, with the two highest ranked teams advancing.

With the format now complete, Rookie Me Central will take a look at how each side performed in the new tournament, with mixed results shown.

Updated Rankings

6th – SEM Phoenix

The Phoenix bowed out in disappointing fashion in the first of the play-in games, falling to a motivated Wildcats side. In the elimination matchup, the Phoenix had an opportunity to take a match-winning lead in the final quarter, but coughed up their scoreboard advantage and were defeated by seven points.

Given how good South East Melbourne looked at various stages of the season, being the first side knocked out of finals contention is less than ideal for Simon Mitchell and his men.

Over the offseason, expect the club to look to acquire some scoring assistance for Mitch Creek, with the re-signing of Alan Williams is a positive start. Although if not for the play-in, the Phoenix would never have had a chance, but still looked the least likely to advance.

5th – Perth Wildcats

The Wildcats stunned the NBL when they downed the Kings in the final round to secure the final play-in spot in dramatic fashion, and carried that momentum into their clash against the Phoenix.

Although South East Melbourne was ranked higher and had the home court advantage, Perth went into John Cain Arena and silenced the crowd with an outstanding final quarter. Bryce Cotton led the charge as the Wildcats advanced to the second play-in match in a bid to book a spot in the finals against the Kings.

The fairytale came to an abrupt halt when the Taipans ran over the team from out west, with fatigue finally kicking in after a whirlwind few weeks, as Cairns knocked them out in the final match of the tournament.

4th – Cairns Taipans

The Taipans were devastatingly close to a secure spot in the top-two, but were shuffled down to third after the Breakers claimed an overtime win in Round 18. Instead, their path to the finals was rearranged, and they ended up being matched up against the JackJumpers.

Things got even trickier when superstar Keanu Pinder was ruled out for the remainder of the season. The JackJumpers proved too good for the NBL’s northernmost side, and the Taipans were suddenly a chance of being eliminated in their second-chance clash against the Wildcats.

When guard Tahjere McCall was also ruled out through injury, Cairns’ outlook was less than ideal. However, behind a marvellous performance from DJ Hogg, the Taipans managed to showcase their championship credentials once again with a magnificent win over the Wildcats, booking a spot in the finals.

The Taipans will now face the Kings, who have been the best side in the competition all season. Although the task seems tall, the play-in showed that this Cairns side can win with its backs against the wall, and will give itself every chance to be in a winning position.

3rd – Tasmania JackJumpers

After Scott Roth and his players secured a second consecutive top-four finish since joining the NBL, the JackJumpers were matched up against the Taipans, who had taken the season series 2-1, although Tassie won the most recent clash.

Heading up to Cairns Convention Centre in a bid to book in a spot in the semi-finals series against the Breakers, the JackJumpers lost star guard Josh Magette to a facial injury in the final match of the season. The import has been crucial to Tasmania’s success in the NBL, leaving a big hole in the team structurally.

Instead of being intimidated by the vocal Cairns crowd, the NBL’s newest side delivered a stirring opening quarter performance to take control of the match. Behind the likes of scoring machine Milton Doyle and a surprising performance from young gun Isaac White, Tassie secured the road victory and advanced to the finals.

The JackJumpers are now matched up against the Breakers, and will need to lift once again as they currently trail the series 1-0 after a disappointing performance on Sunday afternoon.

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