Melbourne United outlasted Adelaide, but Perth leapfrogged them by a single point to grab the last NBL playoff spot.
Catch up with all the round 18 NBL23 action.
Last gasp Wildcats grab playoff berth by 1 point
The Perth Wildcats confirmed their place in the NBL’s inaugural play-in tournament as the buzzer sounded to end the regular season.
Perth needed to beat the Sydney Kings by a double-figure margin to move ahead of Melbourne United and into sixth place on the ladder.
They did that, on the back of a double-double from rising star Luke Travers.
They survived a couple of late and rare missed shots from Dejan Vasilevic to hold on for a 12-point victory and move back into sixth place, at the expense of United, who sat there after earlier beating the Adelaide 36ers..
The reward for the Cats is an NBL play-in match between against the fifth-ranked South East Melbourne Phoenix at John Cain Arena on Thursday.
Perth’s 96-84 victory over Sydney at RAC Arena changed nothing for the defending champs though.
The Kings had already locked away top spot before the final weekend of fixtures
The defending champions finished the season with the tough schedule, having to play in Adelaide and Perth.
And they were without Derrick Walton Jr in the West, who was rested due to wrist soreness.
A greater concern for the Kings is the knee injury to Jackson Makoi sustained on Sunday.
The Kings and second-placed New Zealand will sit back and watch the play-in games unfold on Thursday night.
The Cairns Taipans will also host the Tasmania JackJumpers, with the winner earning a semi-final series date with the Breakers.
The winner of the game between the Wildcats and the Phoenix will meet the loser of the Taipans v JackJumpers clash; the loser will be eliminated.
Missing class of Walton
The Kings don’t take the best form into the finals as they try to defend their title.
They won just two of their past six games.
They played with plenty of aggressions on Sunday, especially at the offensive end.
Xavier Cooks, who sat out of the game against the 36ers, had a tough night from the free-throw line and he had plenty of chances to get it right.
With the Perth crowd rising every time he went to the line, Cooks managed just three of nine attempts as the Kings went 12 from 21.
Coach Chase Buford thought they really missed Walton.
“We really looked like we missed our point guard, with the amount of turnovers and missed passes,” he said.
“We had a lot of guys open and couldn‘t find the right way to get it to them.
“The difference of points off turnovers (22-12 points) was the difference in the score.
“We couldn‘t make three; couldn’t make free throws and couldn’t make passes when we needed to.”
Vasilijevic top-scored for the Kings with 18 points; Cooks the only other Sydney player to reach double figures (15)
Cotton quiet, no worries
Before Perth even started the final regular season game against Sydney, they had been in and out top six several times – due to the sea-sawing battle between Melbourne and Adelaide.
But United’s victory and the Rayjon Tucker buzzer-beating three-pointer, meant the Wildcats needed to beat Sydney by 11 points to progress, something that hasn’t happened all season.
With Bryce Cotton struggling in offense, Luke Travers showed why he is one of the best young talents in the league.
Travers scored 22 points and dragged in 11 rebounds, to go with six assists.
Coach John Rillie said there was a maturity in Travers game that helped get his team the result.
“He is building to that being performance being something we can appreciate on a consistent basis,” he said.
“He has done a great job in progressing his career.
“It‘s great maturity be able to step up like that in a game of this magnitude.
“It felt like we needed a big game out of him and he produced.”
Cotton had a tough night, shooting two of 20 field attempts. He had seven points at quarter-time and finished with nine.
Melbourne United into playoffs … for now
Melbourne United have one foot in the play-in tournament after defeating Adelaide 116-107 in an entertaining high-scoring affair at John Cain Arena on Sunday.
The result saw Melbourne cling onto the final top-six spot, for a couple of hours at least. If Sydney beat Perth later in the day, or the Wildcats win by about 10 points or less, then United will book their place in the post-season.
Rayjon Tucker was the standout for Melbourne, hitting 31 points on 11-21 shooting, including 4-9 from three, eight rebounds, five assists and a block.
But he certainly wasn‘t on his own as Chris Goulding registered 23 points, including five threes, and two steals, while Xavier Rathan-Mayes (21 points) had five rebounds, five assists and a steal.
For the 36ers, Antonius Cleveland recorded a professional career-high 30 points on 10-17 shooting (5-7 from three) to go with six rebounds and a block, while Sunday Dech (20 points) was huge off the bench with a 7-11 clip from the field which included 3-5 from three.
Melbourne looked like they were cruising to victory when Isaac Humphries kickstarted a 12-4 run which saw them open up a seven-point lead early in the third stanza.
Mitch McCarron and Ian Clark got Adelaide back within one point 4:20 before the final break, but a Chris Goulding-inspired seven-point burst reasserted Melbourne’s authority on the contest.
However, Antonius Cleveland got the final quarter off to a blistering start for Adelaide with a sensational drive to the hoop and one-handed jam over Mason Peatling, before completing a three-point play after being fouled.
The inspirational play sparked a 13-4 run which saw the 36ers get their noses back in front 93-91 after that man again Cleveland drained a three.
Veteran Brad Newley made some important buckets to keep Melbourne in touch and Rayjon Tucker gave them back the lead 100-98 with 3:02 remaining when he made a crucial three. From there, United wouldn‘t relinquish their advantage, scoring 16 of the last 25 points to seal the win.
With the shackles released for both teams in their pursuit of a play-in spot, they combined for a superb shooting display.
Melbourne went at 50 per cent from the field (38-76) and 39 from three (13-33) while Adelaide hit 58 (38-65) from the field and 52 from three (13-25).
But the visitors were undone on the boards with United dominated the rebounds 46-25, including a staggering 21-6 on the offence.
If Dean Vickerman‘s men do finish in the top six, it would complete a remarkable recovery. After starting the season 5-10, they have won 10 of their last 13 games to roar back into playoffs contention.
As for the 36ers, they had to beat Melbourne by about 20 points to be any chance of qualifying for the play-in, and their campaign is now over.
GOULDING MAGIC DENIED
A spectacular catch-and-throw half-court basket from Chris Goulding on halftime was disallowed because it occurred just after the buzzer sounded, sparking a round of boos from the home fans, and denying Melbourne the lead at the major break. But he still finished with five threes for the match, which saw him enter the NBL’s top 10 all-time as he equalled Mat Campbell in the category on 1049.
TUCKER STOPS DECH
With 16 seconds left in the first quarter, Sunday Dech attempted to drive to the rim for a dunk but Rayjon Tucker got in the way with a brilliant defensive move as he leapt in the air, made himself big and smothered Dech’s attempt.
DRMIC GOES INTO THE CROWD
Late in the second term, Anthony Drmic desperately attempted to save the ball from going out of bounds and his effort sent him diving into, and over, the first two rows of fans. After completing an athletic forward somersault, fortunately he emerged unscathed and sprinted back onto the court.
Breakers lock up second spot with OT win
— Marco Monteverde
The New Zealand Breakers secured second spot on the NBL ladder with a thrilling 80-75 overtime defeat of the Brisbane Bullets at Nissan Arena on Saturday night.
Scores were locked at 71-71 at the end of normal time, but it was the Breakers (18-10) who steadied when it mattered to lock in a top-two finish and knock the Cairns Taipans to third spot on the ladder due to a superior percentage.
For the Bullets, the loss completed a miserable season.
It was Brisbane’s 20th loss of the campaign, with only cellar dwellers Illawarra (3-25) having a worse record.
The Bullets led 18-16 at quarter-time, and increased their advantage to six points by the main break.
However, the Breakers fought back to level scores at 54-54 at three-quarter time.
The teams then scored 17 points apiece in the final quarter before the New Zealanders showed greater poise to send the crowd home disappointed and complete a remarkable turnaround after finishing at the foot of the ladder last season.
American forward Jarrell Brantley hit a game-high 19 points for the winners, while Brisbane star Aron Baynes had 17 points.
Breakers captain Tom Abercrombie, who chipped in with 14 points. said his team had learnt to “take punches”.
“It’s incredibly satisfying to finish off the regular season and complete that turnaround from last season, and just feel really good about ourselves going into the finals,” Abercrombie said.
“We’re a resilient organisation now. We can take punches.”
Bullets coach Greg Vanderjagt was gutted by the loss but was full of praise for his side’s effort.
“I’m disappointed with the outcome but extremely proud of the group to keep grinding,” Vanderjagt said.
“They played for each other and they played for the fans. We played the right way.”
He said the Bullets had a “lot to learn” from a season of turmoil on and off the court.
“There’s a lot for the guys to take away from it,” Vanderjagt said.
JackJumpers lock in home final after big win
– Jarrod Lawler
It could come at a cost with one of their stars suffering a serious injury, but the JackJumpers have booked themselves at least one home final and a double chance after cementing fourth spot on the NBL table with a comfortable 87-63 win over the Illawarra Hawks at WIN Entertainment Centre on Saturday night.
Tassie entered the final round with the ability to finish the season anywhere from fourth to seventh but ultimately took care of its own destiny with a dominant 24-point win to lock away fourth spot and punch its ticket to the playoffs.
However, the win could come at a cost with star point guard Josh Magette forced to leave the court with a suspected fractured cheekbone following a stray accidental elbow to the face from Hawk William Hickey on a layup attempt.
The JackJumpers will be sweating on the condition of their American playmaker who despite not shooting at a high percentage this season has again been a key part of the JackJumpers engine on both ends of the floor.
The big win, the Jackies 16th of the season, means they will now travel to play either Cairns or New Zealand [whoever finishes third) next week with the winner of that advancing through to a best of three game semi-final series [against whoever finishes second.]
If the JackJumpers lose the third vs. fourth matchup then their championship dreams will still be alive as they’ll return to MyState Bank Arena a few days later for a blockbuster home elimination final against the winner of the fifth v sixth play-in game.
The winner of that elimination final would then face the Sydney Kings in a semi-final showdown.
Tassie will be hoping Milton Doyle can carry over his stellar form into the postseason after the smooth-moving American once again led the way in the Jackies win over the Hawks, flirting with a triple double to finish with 20 points, eight rebounds and 10 assists.
Starting duo Jack McVeigh (14 points on 6/11 shooting) and Will Magnay (13 points on 6/6 shooting) were also big contributors while backup centre Fabijan Krslovic (12 points, nine rebounds) was superb off the bench.
Adelaide’s wild season continues with surprise win over the Kings
The 36ers’ wild rollercoaster of a season in front of their home fans ended on a dizzying high on Friday night when CJ Bruton’s men stunned ladder leaders Sydney by seven points at the Adelaide Entertainment Centre.
The 36ers maddeningly inconsistent and wildly unpredictable campaign has been frustrating at times and thrilling at others, with the 115-108 win against the reigning champions in front of a record 9,558 fans definitely falling into the latter category.
Somehow, with one game to play, Adelaide was in with a mathematical chance to make the playoffs with the result that improved their record to 13-14, while the Kings are still untouchable on top of the ladder despite dropping to 19-8.
With that in mind, Kings star Xavier Cooks suited up for the clash, but the MVP candidate was managed and didn’t leave the bench.
The thrilling performance probably still won’t be enough for the Sixers to pull off a miracle playoff berth, but the fifth sellout crowd in a row wasn’t thinking about that in a pulsating finale.
Scores were level at halftime, but the visitors opened the second half with an 8-0 run that threatened to the game away from Adelaide.
Robert Franks and Anthony Drmic helped drag it back to 78-78 with just over two minutes to the last change, but back-to-back Dejan Vasiljevic threes put the Kings up by five heading into the final term.
An athletic one-handed jam from Antonius Cleveland had the fans at fever pitch and the defensive player of the year candidate was huge down the stretch at the other end once again.
In a frantic crescendo to an offensive slugfest, Ian Clark put the 36ers up by three points with a lay-up with one minute left on the clock.
Shaun Bruce missed a three then a lay-up for Sydney, Kyrin Galloway made one of two foul shots then Franks drained a triple as time ran out to celebrate a famous win.
CLARK VS KINGS
Clark’s addition to the Kings’ roster midway through last season was a key factor in their championship run.
While he hasn’t managed to spread the same fairy dust over Adelaide’s campaign, Clark has still made a valuable contribution.
In his first meeting with his old side, the NBA championship winner made a rare start and had the hot hand early, draining his team’s first seven points before sitting down after successive fouls.
Clark’s energy was the catalyst for an Adelaide, the home side throwing a run of poor starts to put up a season-high 35 first-quarter points on the reigning champs.
The Sixers average 8.2 three-pointers a game (second lowest in the league), but hit 6-of-9 in a stunning opening-term blitz to lead by six points at the first break and finished with a stunning 16-of-34 from long range.
The 36ers will hope they are still in with a playoff shot when they close out the season against Melbourne United at John Cain Arena on Sunday afternoon, the same day that the Kings will tune up for their playoff run against the Wildcats in Perth.
Originally published as NBL23: Perth Wildcats sneak into playoffs by barest of margins, Melbourne United miss out