The Illawarra Hawks quickly became the second favourite team for many fans during the NBL Finals series. Losing freshly-crowned league MVP Kevin Lisch to injury in game 1 against Perth was awful luck, but it allowed Illawarra to show their true, fighting colours.
Looking at not just their spirited Finals campaign, but the season as whole, there were many positives to take away from the season.
WHAT WENT WELL
The Illawarra Hawks were the talk of Australian basketball when they fought out a game 2 win over Perth without their star Kevin Lisch. Many didn't give them a chance against a fully fit and firing Perth outfit, but those people clearly underestimated the fight and determination within the group.
The Hawks gelled as a team and with each game the group grew closer together; they played for each other and the team chemistry was on full display. When the going got tough, the whole team stood up, as showcased in their game 2 win over Perth.
One man in particular stood up in the massive game 2 win. That man was Oscar Forman. He played the perfect captain's game with 21 points, 5 rebounds and 2 blocks. He made his presence felt on both ends of the court and he was not going to let his team lose.
The big three of Kevin Lisch, Kirk Penney and AJ Ogilvy were great for Illawarra. Coach Rob Beveridge relied upon those three to steer the ship all season long. The trio of stars were dynamic and when on the court together they managed to share the load and in doing allowed the team to be successful.
In what many would call the feel good story of the season, Jarrad 'Agent 97' Weeks produced the amazing for Illawarra. His energy off the bench was infectious for his teammates and the fans loved him!
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Not having a name on the back of his jersey mattered little when he produced highlight play after highlight play. NBL fans quickly learned and won't forget in a hurry, who Jarrad Weeks is.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Game 3 of the Finals series against Perth certainly didn't go to plan. Riding a wave of momentum and with the return of Lisch, Illawarra quickly ran out of steam and couldn't keep up with Perth.
Illawarra were absolutely dominated inside. Perth scored 46 of their 89 points in the paint, whilst the Hawks could only manage 18. The Wildcats dominance inside, along with the Hawks only shooting 38% from the field, led to an easy win for Perth and a disappointing end to an inspired run by Illawarra.
Winning the league MVP for a second time in his career solidified Kevin Lisch's standing in the NBL history books.He averaged 19.4 points, 3.5 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.8 steals per game (including Finals). He finished top five in the league for points, assists and steals.
Whilst Lisch was terrific on the offensive end with his playmaking and scoring, his defence was just as impressive. Lisch's defence inspired his team and annoyed the opposition into turnovers and rushed shots.
The reality is that Illawarra were just 1 win away from an NBL Grand Final berth. Finishing the regular season in third position speaks volumes of a very solid season and one that can be built upon for the future.
Illawarra finish the season with a B+ grade.