NBL Winners and Losers: Grand Final Edition
The time has come to bid farewell to the 2016/17 NBL season. As you might expect, a distinctly red haze has fallen over the Winners in this grand final edition of NBL Winners and Losers.
Shawn Redhage's NBL achievements make for one heck of an impressive list. Four championships, twice named to the All-NBL First Team, 32nd on the all-time NBL scoring list. But it's what he has meant to the Wildcats that really elevates his status.
Redhage retires sitting second in all-time games played for Perth (380), only trailing a guy you might've heard of named Ricky Grace. He is a six-time winner of the Gordon Ellis medal for club MVP, the most won by any player in franchise history. It's hard to imagine that ever being surpassed.
He led the Wildcats through one of the most challenging periods in their club history. Admittedly, Perth's version of adversity might differ from that of other teams. Nonetheless, when they emerged from a 10-year championship drought to win it all in 2009/10, it was largely thanks to Redhage, their captain and best player that season.
The number 42 jersey will soon hang alongside the 2016/17 championship banner in the rafters of Perth Arena, of that there is no doubt.
The Larry Sengstock Medallist
As you would expect of a team completing a 3-0 sweep of a grand final series, Perth had a number of significant contributors.
Matty Knight set the tone in Game 1 with 10 points in the first quarter on 5-6 shooting, before terrorising the Hawks on the offensive glass on his way to a double-double.
Casey Prather was a force all over the court in every game.
Damian Martin did Damian Martin things. Yes, I'm talking about him shooting 6-11 (55%) from the perimeter. Oh, and he also does some defensive stuff.
Angus Brandt stepped up with 15 points and 11 rebounds when Matty Knight went down on the road in Game 2.
Jameel McKay's defensive versatility kept the Hawks at bay with a team-best plus-28 in the closing Game 3.
But, in the end, picking the Grand Final MVP was an easy decision.
The Hawks, surprise grand finalists
This is the first Winners and Losers since the Hawks won through to the grand final with a shocking upset of the minor premier Adelaide 36ers. It wouldn't be fair to focus all the attention on their disappointing showing in the grand final without giving them some kudos for their incredible semi-final series victory.
Marvelle Harris played out of his mind for 15 points in the first half - a half in which the Hawks conceded only one turnover! Their zone defence had the young 36ers questioning everything they had ever known, holding them to just 64 points through three quarters.
A.J. Ogilvy sat the last two and a half quarters with an injury. No problem. Oscar Forman stepped in to snare a season-high six rebounds, and Cody Ellis anchored the defence like he was made to play the small-ball five-man, with a team-best plus-15 in nearly 23 minutes. Rotnei Clarke sunk a couple of the sharpest daggers you're ever likely to see to crush a desperate, late 36ers rally.
"Everybody stepped up, it's as simple as that," said Rob Beveridge post-game. It was a stirring performance that shouldn't be swept away by the grand final defeat.
The fairytale is over
In the last 12 months, the sporting world has seen:
The Cleveland Cavaliers overcome a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals to win their first ever championship, and break a 52-year drought for the city across the major US sports;
The Chicago Cubs break a 108-year title drought, fighting back from 3-1 in the World Series;
The Western Bulldogs win their first AFL flag in 62 years, stunning the league from seventh on the ladder.
The Illawarra Hawks own the second-longest championship drought in the NBL. Their one and only title came in 2001; the Cairns Taipans entered the league in 1999/2000 and are yet to secure their first banner.
When the Wildcats went up 2-0 over the Hawks in the grand final series, the scene was set for the Hawks to add yet another fairytale comeback to this sporting year. Perth, the evil stepmother of the NBL, was having none of it.
Adelaide's missed opportunity
Just as we needed to pay our respects to Illawarra's semi-final win, we must also recognise Adelaide's game 3 stage fright.
With a grand final spot beckoning, the 36ers froze. They were tentative in the face of Illawarra's zone. When it mattered most, this team - that had appeared to have the strongest identity in the NBL - looked unsure of themselves.
A furious Nathan Sobey-led charge in the fourth quarter briefly threatened a miracle, but it was too little, too late. Here's hoping this one sticks in the minds of the players in the offseason, and fuels the fire to go a little further in 2017/18.
Farewell, Coach Demopoulos
It barely registered in the midst of the NBL finals frenzy, but Melbourne United will have a fresh face at the helm in 2017/18 after deciding not to re-sign head coach Dean Demopoulos.
Demopoulos had his fair share of critics in his two seasons at United. His offensive system wasn't the most aesthetically pleasing to many; he emphasised minimising turnovers, and that meant structure and simplicity reigned over creativity and ball movement.
It certainly had its merits. That style led Melbourne to a minor premiership last season, and there's a fair argument that import decisions and injuries were the major factors behind Melbourne missing the playoffs this year.
Coach D's fate can probably be traced back to three games against New Zealand. The 2-0 semi-final sweep last season, and Melbourne's 70-88 loss to a depleted Breakers team, with a top four spot on the line in Round 19 of this season.
In each of those three most important games of Demopoulos's tenure, United's offence ground to a halt in the face of finals-level defensive intensity. It's a small sample size, but it might well be what cost him another chance in 2017/18.