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Then there were two, United, Jackies for the crown

MELBOURNE versus Tasmania for the NBL crown. It's the best-of-five Grand Final Series most craved - other than the stampede of fans Illawarra corralled during its extraordinary season and post-season, or anyone living in Western Australia. Shea Ili and Jack McVeigh ensured we'd get it.

Matthew Dellavedova and Milton Doyle also had more than a passing say in how two excellent best-of-three semi final series panned out, United staving off a relentless Hawks outfit 100-94, the JackJumpers doing it considerably easier in Perth 100-84.

Their Championship showdown from Game 1 on Sunday afternoon promises to be one for the ages, two deep teams with top quality coaches who know how to utilise their personnel.

With its abundant championship experience, Melbourne was professional and even clinical at times in Game 3, Illawarra battling gamely all night in its hopes of fulfilling an unlikely destiny.

But championship winners were to the fore, whether it was Dellavedova, Ian Clark or Chris Goulding hitting a couple of big shots, but Ili was the man who drove United into another championship tilt.

He was outstanding and, like Keanu Pinder for Perth against Tasmania in Game 1, probably the X-Factor on which Illawarra had not counted.

The worst fears of Hawks and non-committed fans were underlined within 12 seconds of tip-off when a referee with X-ray vision at the sideline found a foul on William "Davo" Hickey. It took 12 seconds. Trigger-happy much?

Tyler Harvey, Gary Clark and Hickey with his second, meant the Hawks were on four team fouls and Melbourne in bonus, the clock - it starts at 10:00 - showing 8:38.

Yes. One minute and 22 seconds in and Illawarra had four fouls, United shooting free throws for the rest of the quarter.

The cynics already were shaking their heads but in truth, the officiating could not be held responsible for the Hawks finally falling short.

What it did do early was change some Hawk mindsets and they did well to only trail 19-29 after one period. Dellavedova, Luke Travers, Clark with a triple had United off to the races, ahead 21-6 at one point.

But Sam Froling, who consistently across this series lowered the colours of United's twin towers Jo Lual-Acuil and Ariel Hukporti, led another Hawks recovery. Justin Robinson, irrelevant in Game 2, came off the bench to swish 3-point baskets as though that was his forte.

At best an understandably hesitant 3-point shooter, Ili took a couple with confidence and it was justified, Dellavedova taking it at the Hawks as Melbourne rebuilt a 13-point lead in the second.

Hickey, Froling and Robinson led another Hawks revival, Harvey and Clark largely ineffective, the former due to foul troubles, the latter with fatigue.

Travers (15 points, 7-of-13 shooting, 11 rebounds) attacked him regularly and although Kyle Bowen was less impactful, the duo wore Clark out.

Ultimately the story of the game was simply Melbourne a little too classy, Illawarra resolutely refusing to accept that, fighting to the finish line.   

United marched on, as the regular season champion should, the Hawks left to lament that of 38 free throw attempts, they only converted 24. Leaving 14 at the stripe ... losing by six, the maths is ugly but decisive. 

In Perth, the Wildcats made a monumental gaffe in the second half, leaving four-time league MVP and seven-time league-leading scorer Bryce Cotton having to chase the ball to manufacture a shot.

Tasmania started well but Cotton was electric, 15 points in the first half, including 3-of-3 threes.

He was the main reason Perth only trailed 43-52 at the main interval. Little separated the teams through the first stanza but in the second quarter, Milton Doyle went off for 13 of his 24 points which, when coupled with his nine assists, two steals and four rebounds, made him the match-winner.

Jordon Crawford again had his offensive struggles (1-of-6, though his 3-pointer was timely) but his hustle and role in curtailing Cotton - along with Anthony Drmic, Doyle and Sean MacDonald - still was important. But why Perth chose to go away from Cotton in the second half had to be as frustrating for him as any Wildcat fan wondering what happened to John Rillie's game plan. 

Keanu Pinder, who produced inarguably the best performance of his career as a Perth Wildcat in Game 1 of this series, closed it by playing the worst game of his career as a Perth Wildcat in Game 3. He started without his mask, then retrieved it but was never a factor, not even remotely.

Pinder still grabbed a team-best seven rebounds but he was 0-of-4 from the floor and 0-of-2 from long distance, having gone 0-of-5 from beyond the arc in two matches since Game 1's 5-of-7 revelation.

In truth, he never again looked himself after taking a head knock in the first half of Game 2 and while the club chose to portray his ineffectiveness as "foul trouble", its record in looking after concussed players is far from exemplary. 

While the wrong players insisted on taking shots - Cotton had three field goal attempts after halftime - and a helpless Rillie watched the crisis worsen, Tasmania continued to execute and play like the genuine team it is and has been since coach Scott Roth first visited the island.

McVeigh (27 points at 60 percent, 4-of-5 threes, six rebounds, two assists) continued to show he should be in any conversation about Boomers squads, Will Magnay and Marcus Lee monstered the keyways, MacDonald, Drmic, Majok Deng, Crawford, Clint Steindl all doing what was necessary to lay the foundation for victory, before building a monument to Roth upon it.

The further this went, the better the Jackies looked, ahead 100-80 before giving up the game's final baskets.

Surprisingly, Perth fans stayed away in droves, less than 7,500 choosing to even turn up to see what, indeed, was a calamatous finale for the home team. The Wildcats are used to crowds almost double that but fans vote with their feet.

Similarly in Melbourne, United's 6,288 attendance was its most meagre crowd of the season.

The Grand Final Series deserves nothing but full houses. 

NBL Semi Final (1v4) Best-of-3

Game 3: MELBOURNE UNITED 100 (Ili 22, Travers 15, Clark, Goulding 14, Lual-Aciul 13, Dellavedova 11; Travers 11 rebs; Dellavedova 5 assts) d ILLAWARRA HAWKS 94 (Froling 23, Robinson 19, Clark 14, Lee 12; Hickey, Clark 6 rebs; Robinson 7 assts) at John Cain Arena. Crowd: 6,288 

Game 2: ILLAWARRA HAWKS 113 (Clark 31, Harvey 23, Froling 19, Hickey 18; Clark 16 rebs; Froling 4 assts) d MELBOURNE UNITED 108 (Dellavedova 20, Lual-Acuil 18, Clark 17, Goulding 15, Ili 12, Travers 11; Lual-Acuil, Travers 7 rebs; Dellavedova 8 assts) in overtime {97-97} at WIN Entertainment Centre. Crowd: 5,631

Game 1: MELBOURNE UNITED 115 (Dellavedova 30, Travers 24, Goulding 18, Clark 14, Ili 13; Lual-Acuil 9 rebs; Dellavedova 10 assts) d ILLAWARRA HAWKS 106 (Froling 26, Clark 22, Harvey 15, Lee 12, Swaka Lo Buluk 10; Clark 12 rebs; Robinson 7 assts) in overtime {100-100} at John Cain Arena. Crowd: 8,232

Melbourne wins Series 2-1

NBL Semi Final (2v3) Best-of-3

Game 3: TASMANIA JACKJUMPERS 100 (McVeigh 27, Doyle 24, Magnay 18; Magnay 9 rebs; Doyle 9 assts) d PERTH WILDCATS 84 (Cotton 21, H.Harris 13, T.Webster, Doolittle, Sarr 9; Pinder 7 rebs; T.Webster, H.Harris 3 assts) at RAC Arena. Crowd: 7,467 

Game 2: TASMANIA JACKJUMPERS 102 (Doyle 24, McVeigh 22, Deng 18, Magnay 15, MacDonald 12; Magnay 7 rebs; MacDonald 5 assts) d PERTH WILDCATS 94 (Cotton 26, Doolittle 20, H.Harris, T.Webster 9; Doolittle 9 rebs; H.Harris, Usher 4 assts) at Mystate Bank Arena. Crowd: 4,340

Game 1: PERTH WILDCATS 89 (Pinder 25, Cotton 15, Usher 11; Pinder, Cotton 7 rebs; Cotton 5 assts) d TASMANIA JACKJUMPERS 81 (Crawford 19, McVeigh 17, Lee 16, Doyle 12; Magnay 8 rebs; Doyle 6 assts) at RAC Arena. Crowd: 10,624

Tasmania wins Series 2-1

Mar 14

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