Hawks stun 36ers to book grand final spot
ILLAWARRA will face the Perth Wildcats for the NBL championship after scoring a win for the ages, stunning regular-season champion Adelaide 106-98 in their deciding semi-final on Thursday night.
The Hawks made their grand final appointment despite getting just over seven minutes from All Star Five centre AJ Ogilvy, and with import Marvelle Harris playing under duress, flying to Los Angeles on Friday after the win to be with his critically ill father.
A near sold-out crowd around Brett Maher Court watched in anguish as the Hawks pulled as far as 21 clear in the final period before Nathan Sobey produced a 13-point tour-de-force to give fans hope and voice.
Nick Kay gave Illawarra a 95-74 buffer with six minutes left before Sobey joined Jerome Randle (26 points, six assists) as an offensive avenue.
Adelaide peeled off 13 straight points before Hawks import guard Rotnei Clarke drained the first of two match-winning three-pointers.
The first broke Adelaide's momentum to bump Illawarra's lead back to 98-87.
Randle and Sobey still clawed it back to five at 98-93 before Clarke's second big triple inside the last minute put out the Sixers' fire.
"It's a tough way to go out but they were better than us," 36ers coach Joey Wright said.
"They hit the big shots when they had to and we came up a bit short.
"I'm very proud of the guys and the way they fought it out."
Ogilvy's early foul and injury woes opened the door initially for the 36ers but playing relaxed and smart, the Hawks' exemplary ball movement at times was mesmerising.
Illawarra rocked the 36ers with its early three-point bombardment, sticking five-of-11 in the first period, with Harris, Rhys Martin twice, Clarke and Tim Coenraad all nailing shots from range.
Adelaide led 8-4 early but it should have been more and without the scoreboard pressure from its defensive work, the Hawks steadily grew in stature, responding with an 11-0 run.
By the first break, they were ahead 27-18 and it only improved.
Harris was having his way with the Sixers' defence, bumping the buffer to 37-24 before Randle nailed the first of three triples for the period.
Illawarra had Clarke scoring from range or blowing by stranded defenders as Adelaide looked lost for options, slow offensively, soft defensively.
A flop technical foul against Anthony Drmic was substantial in shifting momentum, and he was eventually technical fouled out of the game after Illawarra pushed its lead to 56-39.
That was despite Ogilvy being restricted after appearing to roll his left ankle during the first quarter and fellow frontcourt starter Kay down on minutes also with three fouls.
Harris, who the club hopes will return in time to play some role in the later games of the best-of-five grand final, which tips off in Perth on Sunday, left with a bang.
He had 15 points at 75 per cent at half-time, finishing with 17 before fouling out, Clarke leading six Hawks in double figures.
"That was the most selfless performance of the year," Hawks coach Rob Beveridge said.
No-one would argue.