NBL Rebound: A curious case of what could have been

STORY OF THE WEEK

It was right there for the taking, Part 1.

The Adelaide 36ers had a lead, all they had to do was hold it and the remaining NBL finals spot was in their hands.

Leading 84-81 with a tick over two minutes remaining, the finish line was in sight for an Adelaide outfit that had battled manfully against the reigning champions Melbourne United.

And then it all fell apart.

What followed was calamitous on several levels, as Nathan Sobey, Anthony Drmic, and Daniel Johnson all missed shots that would have either tied the game or reduced the margin to a single possession.

Alas, the 36ers would not score again until Ramone Moore hit a triple at the buzzer, a shot that only affected the final scoreline in an 89-87 defeat that leaves Adelaide clinging grimly to fourth place.

Not only did the defeat ensure the last playoff spot won't be decided until potentially the final game of the regular season, it also allowed Melbourne United to dig its heels further into a top-two finish and home court advantage.

The title-holders can seal their own position by defeating the cellar-dwelling Cairns Taipans at Melbourne Arena on Valentine's Day.

Until that final surge United had looked mildly vulnerable, having already suffered a 97-85 defeat to Sydney two nights earlier that had given the Kings' own top-two chances some serious momentum.

But as Sydney was to quickly discover, fortune is a fickle friend.

It was right there for the taking, Part 2.

The Sydney Kings had a lead, all they had to do was hold it and a top-two NBL finals spot was in their hands.

Leading 77-74 with 36 seconds remaining, the Kings had done everything right in the hostile confines of RAC Arena.

They just needed one defensive stop. One.

And although defensive rotations left the Perth Wildcats with a slightly open three-point shot to tie the game, Sydney coach Andrew Gaze wouldn't have been unhappy it was Perth stalwart Damian Martin who was launching from downtown.

After all, Martin was 0-5 from beyond the arc to that point of the game, and a career 32 per cent shooter from that distance.

And so, given the unpredictable nature of this season, it seemed only natural that Martin would hit it to tie the game.

From that point the Kings were just bystanders during the overtime that followed, mere extras on a stage that Bryce Cotton made all his own.

The reigning MVP bounced back from a scoreless first half to score 10 points in the fourth and then really put his foot down in the extra period with 14 points to propel the Wildcats back to the top of the NBL ladder with one round to go.

It was one of the most remarkable 27-point performances you'll ever see and it means the 'Cats can simultaneously seal a top-two position and place the Adelaide 36ers in a decidedly precarious position with a win on Friday night at RAC Arena.

Should the 36ers lose and Brisbane defeats the visiting New Zealand Breakers in the final game of the regular season, Adelaide will be on the outside looking in and wondering why the basketball gods conspired against them.

Likewise Sydney will also wonder where they went wrong, with the 95-86 defeat condemning the Kings to an uncertain placing in the finals, needing to defeat Cairns and have Perth and/or Melbourne lose their remaining games to claim a top-two berth.

It's been a season of such unpredictability that surely there remains one final twist.

That it could come down to the final game of the season is poetry itself.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK

Bryce Cotton (PER) - There aren't too many players in this league who could go scoreless in a half of basketball, still score 27 points and carry their team to a crucial win. There's a very good reason Bryce Cotton is the two-time reigning MVP of the NBL, and he showed why yet again in a commanding final quarter and overtime period against the Sydney Kings on Sunday.

TEAM OF THE WEEK

G: Bryce Cotton (PER) - See above.

G: Jerome Randle (SYD) - The Kings' sparkplug has been in a purple (and gold) patch of late, averaging 23 points and eight assists for the round as Sydney upended Melbourne at home before being torched by Cotton at RAC Arena. Looks to be in playoff form already.

G: Nathan Sobey (ADL) - Adelaide's engine room was sensational for the 36ers the whole round, starting with a dominant 27-point (including four makes from international waters), 10-assist, five-rebound performance in a crucial road win over the Breakers. Backed that up with 11 points, eight boards, and five assists in the gut-wrenching defeat to Melbourne.

F: Alex Loughton (CNS) - Who says there's no room for sentimentality? In his final home game for the Snakes, the club stalwart enjoyed a farewell to remember with 11 points and five boards as Cairns defeated state rival Brisbane 79-68.

C: Shawn Long (NZB) - The Breakers might have been officially eliminated from postseason contention, but Long certainly wasn't the reason why. The former Philadelphia 76er averaged 26 points, 11.5 rebounds and 2.5 blocks over the course of Round 17.

WHAT TO LOOK FORWARD TO

For Adelaide, its destiny remains in its hands. Defeat the Wildcats at RAC Arena - no minor task, granted - and the fourth and final playoff spot is theirs. Lose, and they have to pray the visiting New Zealand Breakers can knock off Brisbane.

Meanwhile, at the top end of the top-four, both the aforementioned Perth, and reigning champions Melbourne United, can seal their top-two spots with wins over the 36ers and the Cairns Taipans respectively.