Newly crowned NBL Most Valuable Player Jerome Randle put the Adelaide 36ers on his back with 18 first-half points as they outgunned the visiting Hawks 93-78 in the NBL’s first semi-final.
Randle needed to put forward his best after calling Illawarra a “dirty team” that he “didn’t like playing” against mid-week. He certainly rose to the occasion, bringing some of his Chicago A-game, but not without rubbing the Hawks the wrong way.
“He doesn’t know any of us and he’s never spoken to us. If that’s what he has to do to pump the team up, then so be it,” Hawks coach Rob Beveridge said post-game.
Such was Randle’s energy expenditure that he violently cramped up at the start of the fourth term, only to return at the midpoint and deal some final damage. He had an equal game-high 26 points on the night.
Tim Coenraad was herculean for the visitors with 26 of his own but was warming the pine in the crux, giving up a cheap disqualifying foul with two minutes left. He wasn’t the only one, as teammates Marvelle Harris and Rhys Martin both saw early exits, with the visitors committing 31 total fouls.
“If a player has got four fouls of course you’re going to protect them. We had lots of players on four fouls and luckily we got Tim in and he made shots,” Beveridge said.
Adelaide’s co-pilots Daniel Johnson and Nathan Sobey have struggled in recent games but flicked the switch tonight, producing electric basketball on both ends.
Adelaide learnt their lesson in momentum, keeping the Hawks to only 15 foul shot attempts, whilst themselves shooting 35.
“The key was to try and make them take jump shots with a hand in the face. They all shoot close to 80 (per cent) from the line themselves, so it was definitely a focus,” Sixers coach Joey Wright said.
The home side was replete with awards after Monday night’s ceremony at Docklands, but again they started slow in the first stanza.
Kevin White showed he isn’t just a defensive specialist, after draining consecutive daggers from beyond the arc, as fouls aplenty early had both sides in the bonus.
Nick Kay had Sixer captain Mitch Creek posing for a snapshot on a poster dunk as coaches experimented with their line-ups – Brendan Teys getting a start for the home side.
Like expert poker players calling a bluff, Rob Beveridge and his Hawks had the quarter-time advantage 27-24 behind Coenraad’s nine points, including a four-point play.
Sobey was volcanic out of the second curtain, registering five points in a single minute, giving Adelaide a slim lead.
In what was fast becoming a Marvel and DC clash of the titans; certain players were having moments of individual brilliance rarely seen in the regular season. Eric Jacobsen was one of these, meeting AJ Ogilvy mid-air for an incredible rejection on his way to attracting a plus-minus of +8.
The finals intensity shook the visitors’ resolve as Adelaide kicked the door in on an 8-0 run. The 11 Hawks turnovers didn’t help either.
Sobey had another three-point play and was deep into double figures, whilst Randle had a new set of hubcaps on his wheels, demonstrating his incredible speed off the dribble.
But it was Terrance Ferguson’s put back dunk over three Hawk players that had the stadium in raptures, almost lifting the roof when antagonist Martin left the floor with four fouls.
Adelaide led 52-42 at half-time as the Hawks’ key contributors struggled.
Ogilvy caught the referee’s eye in the third quarter, collecting two offensive fouls while former NBL MVP Rotnei Clarke had three points and as many turnovers to his name.
A small melee bubbled midway through the penultimate quarter as Rookie of the Year Anthony Drmic as fouled in a tangle with Mitch Norton.
It was the spark Illawarra needed as they narrowed the gap to eight, and Clarke also got into the action. But it wasn’t to be for the visitors as the home side monstered the glass with a 56-40 advantage.
Adelaide will look to hand the hawks a straight-sets exit as they travel to Illawarra Sunday night.
ADELAIDE 36ERS 93 (Randle 26, Johnson 16, Sobey 16)
ILLAWARRA HAWKS 78 (Coenraad 26, Clarke 10, Harris 10)