Hawks win, take NBL semi series to game 3
The New Zealand Breakers have one NBL grand final berth sewn up, but the defending champions have to wait five days before finding out who they face on the big stage.
Illawarra shrugged off the absence of MVP Kevin Lisch (ankle injury) to beat the Perth Wildcats 104-87 on Sunday at WIN Entertainment Centre in Wollongong, forcing the best-of-three semi-final series to a deciding third game on Friday in Perth.
Lisch, who captured NBL MVP honours and the defensive player of the year award last week, rolled his ankle in the opening quarter of Illawarra’s 80-68 game one loss to Perth last Friday, and is expected to be sidelined for the rest of the playoffs.
Illawarra’s triumph over the Wildcats was their first in six meetings this season.
The winner of game three will host the Breakers in game one of the grand final series on March 2.
New Zealand’s 91-78 home win on Saturday completed a 2-0 sweep of their semi-final series with minor premiers Melbourne United.
The Breakers have won their past seven games and are shooting for their fifth title in six years.
Perth have won an NBL-best six championships and haven’t missed the playoffs for an incredible 30 consecutive seasons.
The Wildcats head into the decider knowing they haven’t lost at home to the Hawks in the past 23 meetings.
“It’s a one-game series now, and we’ve got the added advantage being at home, but we have to be a lot more aggressive than we did tonight,” Perth coach Trevor Gleeson said.
“We played tentative and brittle and it was disappointing. They were playing desperately and we weren’t. They played at a different level and we didn’t raise the bar at all.”
Hawks captain Oscar Forman celebrated his 450th NBL game in style, scoring a team-high 21 points in an unaccustomed role off the bench.
AJ Ogilvy tallied 20 points, while Kirk Penney and Tim Coenraad combined for 35.
American duo Casey Prather (21) and Jermaine Beal (20) led the Wildcats.
After trailing by two at quarter-time, the Hawks were up 52-50 at half-time and took a 16-point lead into the final period.
Lisch was on crutches and remains a long shot to be fit for Friday night’s decider.
“His foot is black and blue and big as a basketball,” Illawarra coach Rob Beveridge said.
“He’ll want to play but it’s a pretty bad sprain.”
Gleeson won’t be surprised if Lisch suits up on Friday.
“You never count Kevin out,” Gleeson said.
Forman believes the pressure is all on the Cats to advance to the grand final.
“When you get to the playoffs, you don’t want it to end because if you lose you don’t know what to do the next day, and we don’t want that feeling,” the 34-year-old forward said.