SF G1 – Adelaide 36ers v Illawarra Hawks
When: 7.30pm (AEDT), Thursday 16 February
Where: Titanium Security Arena, Adelaide
Broadcast: NBL TV; Fox Sports; Sky Sports NZ
No Show, no problems
There are just two teams in the 2016/17 NBL without a single ex-NBA player on their roster.
One, the Adelaide 36ers, spent nine weeks atop the ladder, the equal most in the league, and rightfully claimed the minor premiership.
The other, the Illawarra Hawks, spent 13 weeks in the top four, the second most in the competition, and finished in fourth place just two games behind the 36ers.
Of course, just because they don’t have anyone who has been in The Show, doesn’t mean they don’t have superstars.
Adelaide have the NBL’s newly-anointed number one man, Jerome Randle, who ended the regular season second in scoring and first in assists, while shooting 51 per cent from the field and 90 per cent from the foul line.
Just don’t like them
However, when it comes to playing the Hawks, things haven’t been so rosy for ‘Rome. His past six games against Rob Beveridge’s men have yielded just 13.8ppg at 43 per cent, and five of his nine lowest-scoring NBL performances have come against Illawarra.
Honesty is the best policy 😳
— NBL (@NBL) February 15, 2017
It’s little wonder he doesn’t like the Hawks. But in Round 14 they forgot to bring the defence and Randle blitzed them for 25 points at 67 per cent, prompting coach Joey Wright to proclaim the witch was dead.
“It’s extremely coincidental that he hasn’t played well against this team,” Wright said.
Three weeks later was resurrection time as the Hawks targeted the pint-sized point guard, forcing Randle into a frustrated 7-of-19 shooting night.
Have no doubt it will be on like Donkey Kong in Adelaide this Thursday when these teams meet in Game 1 of the semi-finals.
— The Locker Room (@DT_LockerRoom) February 15, 2017
Can’t stop the Rot
When it comes to shooting stars, Illawarra’s main man is Rotnei Clarke, the NBL’s Best Sixth Man. It seems he doesn’t really like the 36ers that much either.
The livewire shooting guard has averaged 18.8ppg at 40 per cent from long range against Adelaide this season, and last time they met he was talking the talk and walking the walk on his way to 25 points at 60 per cent from deep.
“I don’t think we fired him up, I think that’s off Rotnei’s own bat,” said 36ers captain Mitch Creek, who has averaged 16.7ppg, 6.3prg, 2.7apg and 1.3spg against the Hawks.
“If you’ve watched him the couple of years he’s been in the league he’s not a mellow guy, he’s not a guy who doesn’t say anything, he’s not a DJ who’s pretty quiet about the way he goes about it.
“He’s an internal passionate guy, he demands a lot from his team and that’s what good players do.”
— NBL (@NBL) January 28, 2017
It turns out though, that extra fire for Adelaide was a cut shot off Beveridge’s blade.
“I’ve got an expectation with Roti that he’s got to be more aggressive out there and he was,” he said.
Beveridge will be delivering the same message to his pine-riding import this Thursday and for good reason. While Clarke has dominated the 36ers in Wollongong, in Titanium Security Arena his numbers are a mediocre 13.5ppg on 5-of-18 from the arc.
Top of the tables
Neither of these teams are a one-man band, however, sitting at or near the top of the table for most of the season due to their team play at both ends.
Adelaide rank first in scoring, field-goal percentage, two-point makes and free-throw attempts, while sitting in the top four in assists, three-point accuracy and offensive boards.
The Hawks are first in assists, second in scoring and free-throw attempts, third in two-point makes and fourth in three-point percentage.
Defensively, Illawarra may give up the second most points, but they rank first in steals, opposition turnovers and fewest free-throws allowed, while sitting second in blocks and fouls conceded.
The 36ers concede the most points in the NBL, but they allow the third-lowest field-goal percentage, the second-fewest charity shots and force opponents into the most three-point attempts.
Defend, rebound and run
To best illustrate how these teams generate run from their defence, when you combine defensive boards and turnovers forced, Adelaide average a league-leading 40.2, while the Hawks sit second with 38.3.
— NBL (@NBL) January 5, 2017
The 36ers have seven players who average two or more defensive boards, Illawarra have five and the dominant presence of AJ Ogilvy, who has averaged 13.7ppg at 60 per cent, 9rpg, 2.2apg and 1.5 blocks in his past six games.
“He’s had such an up-and-down season, and we said right from the start we’re building the club around him, he’s our franchise player, and whether there was too much expectation and too much pressure I don’t know,” Beveridge said.
“But this last month he’s getting a double-double nearly every single game and he’s becoming that dominant player … he’s so focused now, and if he can play like that, probably more so mentally, we’re in this. We need him to perform for us.”
— NBL (@NBL) January 28, 2017
Arresting the slump
Adelaide’s inside target is Daniel Johnson, who has enjoyed a banner year, but recently that form has slipped, his past six games producing 14.2ppg at 42 per cent and 6.2rpg, all down on his season averages.
The league’s Most Improved Player, Nathan Sobey, has faced a similar slump. While he has continued to distribute the ball brilliantly, his past six outings have resulted in just 12.3ppg at 35 per cent from the field.
— NBL (@NBL) February 11, 2017
That’s the tale of the tape for the 36ers as a whole. Since sewing up top spot they have understandably dropped their intensity and dropped four games on the trot.
While Adelaide fans will be hoping their team can flick the post-season switch, Adelaide conceded 92.5ppg at 40 per cent from the arc in that losing run, and Wright knows that won’t get it done against the Hawks.
“All these guys have got to step up and play defence,” he said after last Saturday’s loss to Cairns.
“We had too many defensive breakdowns, we have a certain system that we play on defence and we didn’t come close to it tonight.”
Illawarra lives on getting to the foul line so they can set up their disruptive defensive schemes and throw other teams out of rhythm, and the 36ers can’t afford to repeat their efforts against the Taipans.
“We didn’t smarten up, we just kept making silly fouls, kept putting them on the line,”
“It slowed our momentum down at the other end of the court, we had no rhythm at all, we were stopping every single time watching them shoot free throws, then go try to play offence for 12 seconds then foul again and go watch them shoot free throws.
“We’ve got to be smarter, keep our hands out, don’t commit the silly fouls.”
The Hawks warmed up for the playoffs with a caning of Brisbane, but it was their impressive win over the 36ers in Round 17 that had Beveridge buzzing about their post-season chances.
“I think tonight we showed we do deserve to be in the top four after that performance,” he said.
“We just proved to ourselves, we set a standard there, that we can actually compete with the best team in the league and beat them.”
Never give up
Pre-season, many pundits had these two teams at the foot of the ladder due to their lack of on-paper talent, but both coaches take great pride in the season to date, and Beveridge knows the Hawks must bring the same selfless approach to the semi-finals.
“That means a lot as a coach, we were tipped to come second last yet here we are in the mix to win a championship, and we know for us to do that we have to play great basketball, great as a team,” he said.
For Wright, this series is going to be a battle of two teams and coaches that don’t know how to quit.
“Bevo’s a great coach, I have a lot of confidence in what he does out there, I think he does a fantastic job,” Wright said.
“I would never give up on a Rob Beveridge coached team, and I know my guys will never give up.”
— NBL (@NBL) January 28, 2017