NBL Story of the Week
It promised to be THE marquee mouth-watering blockbuster of the National Basketball League's Round 17, and boy, oh boy, did the Perth Wildcats-Adelaide 36ers matchup deliver.
While the results were perhaps not unexpected - Perth winning 111-90 at home on Friday night, Adelaide returning the favour 94-82 at Titanium Security Arena on Sunday - it was the frayed tempers and tensions that threatened to boil over that added extra spice to a potential playoffs matchup.
On Friday night, with one second remaining in a game long since decided but which had become increasingly physical and chippy, 36ers skipper Brendan Teys fouled Wildcats debutant Lochlan Cummings. Unnecessarily so, according to Perth's Dexter Kernich-Drew, who blindsided Teys, sparking an all-in brawl.
Once the dust had settled, Teys, Kernich-Drew, 36ers playmaker Shannon Shorter and Wildcats reserve Lucas Walker were ejected - with Shorter then leaving via the Perth huddle just to pour a little more gasoline on the bonfire.
It was the explosive culmination of an ill-tempered fourth quarter that had already seen three unsportsmanlike fouls called.
The NBL later announced a list of reports that will keep the tribunal busy this week, with Teys and Kernich-Drew cited for unduly rough play; Shorter and Walker on report for leaving their respective benches; and FIVE 36ers (Shorter, Anthony Drmic, Mitch Creek, Majok Deng, Nelson Larkins) and Wildcats Kernich-Drew, Jarrod Kenny and Clint Steindl all booked for engaging in a melee next to the Adelaide bench.
Whew! It's the Dirty Dozen of charges! That ringing sound you can hear is the league's coffers filling up with fines monies.
The players largely kept themselves in check for the return bout on Sunday, with 36ers livewire Nathan Sobey giving everyone a none-too-subtle reminder of the underlying tensions while exuberantly confronting Angus Brandt after a typically spectacular alley-oop finish in the fourth quarter.
Post-game handshakes are always a good barometer of the level of ill will or otherwise, and there was a considerable brevity and a distinct lack of heartiness to many of the encounters.
And if the results taught us anything at all, it's that Adelaide are not in the least bit scared of the reigning champion Wildcats, and that home court advantage is going to be crucial come playoff time (sound the "obvious statement" klaxon, please!).
With such tension already brewing, and the teams not scheduled to meet again until potentially the playoffs, a finals match-up would dial the intensity-meter all the way to 11.
Given both squads' propensity to give as good as they get, surely the basketball gods give us a post-season encore.
NBL Player of the Week
D.J. Newbill (Breakers) - In a pair of must-win games, New Zealand Breakers put paid to the Illawarra Hawks' finals aspirations and Newbill was right at the heart of the away-home double. On Friday night Newbill scored 11 points and pulled down seven boards in a gritty, low-scoring road win. He backed that up on Sunday, finding his range to go 4-7 from international waters on his way to a team-high 20 points.
NBL Team of the Week
G: Shea Ili (New Zealand Breakers) - Enhanced his claims for the Most Improved Player award with a career-high 17 points in 23 high-octane minutes off the bench on Sunday. Kept import playmaker Edgar Sosa on the bench in crunch time, was without blemish in nine free throw attempts, and added four rebounds and five assists in the 88-84 victory.
G: Jerome Randle (Sydney Kings) - Scored, dished, rebounded ... did a little bit of everything (and a lot of scoring) with 24 points, four boards, five assists and two steals as the Kings surged to a surprising 93-86 road win over the Cairns Taipans.
F: DJ Newbill (New Zealand Breakers) - See above.
F: Mitch Creek (Adelaide 36ers) - A model of consistency over the course of Round 17. Was efficient in the Friday night defeat by Perth with 16 points on just seven shots. Upped the ante on Sunday, however, leading all scorers with 21 points and pulling down 10 rebounds for the first 20-10 game of his career.
C: Josh Boone (Melbourne United) - Keeps on keeping on. In an extremely low-scoring affair (it was a 10-5 first quarter!), Boone added yet another double-double to his tally with 15 points and 12 rebounds - half of those at the offensive end - as United consolidated their place atop the standings with a 69-61 win over Brisbane at Hisense Arena.
NBL Round 18: What To Look Forward To
WIth the finals teams decided, all eyes will be on the matchups of teams jockeying for home court advantage. A Melbourne-New Zealand home-home double is no exception, with both teams keen to keep momentum alive in the lead-up to the postseason.