‘Unbelievable’ Hawks fly into improbable playoff berth after wooden spooners sack coach to spark amazing turnaround


lllawarra have completed one of the more remarkable comebacks in Australian sport in recent times by flying into the NBL playoffs when the club appeared to be in disarray.

After collecting the wooden spoon last year with a paltry 3-25 record, they were 2-7 early this season when they sacked coach Jacob Jackomas.

But they have since made a stunning turnaround under Justin Tatum, with the Hawks guaranteed of making the playoffs after beating the second-placed Perth Wildcats 108-92 in Wollongong on Thursday night.

The Hawks had already beaten the Wildcats twice this season, including doing a standout defensive job on Bryce Cotton, who is a lock for a fourth NBL MVP award this Monday.

Cotton had a much bigger impact at WIN Entertainment Centre, but the Wildcats could do little to curtail the energy of the Hawks.

It turned into a horror night for Perth, who couldn’t be moved from second position coming into the last round.

They lost import forward Kristian Doolittle to a shoulder injury after being blindsided from a backcourt screen from Hawks centre Sam Froling.

There was even a scare late in the game for Cotton, after he took a knock to his knee, but to the Wildcats’ relief he appeared fine soon afterwards.

Sam Froling drives to the basket in Wollongong. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

It was a night of celebration for the Hawks as they improved to a 12-6 record since Tatum was installed as coach. Now they are guaranteed of finishing in the top six, probably in fourth position.

They can guarantee fourth place by beating Melbourne United on Sunday. 

Even if they lose, the New Zealand Breakers need to beat both Brisbane and Adelaide to knock them to fifth.

Tatum was understandably on a high after the match.

“I couldn’t imagine us being at this spot when I was asked to take over by management in late November,” he said.

“Being here right now and being the head coach leading these guys into the play-offs, is an unbelievable feeling.”

Illawarra’s energy was instrumental in the 16-point win, highlighted by the Hawks collecting 57 rebounds to 35, including 20 at the offensive end for 24 second-chance points.

They then did well getting to the foul line 35 times, even if they only made 21.

Gary Clark continued his outstanding form for the Hawks that has him right in the hunt for the All-First Team. He finished with 26 points and 11 rebounds.

He had plenty of help too, with Tyler Harvey finishing with 16 points, Froling 16 points and five rebounds, Justin Robinson 11 points and five assists, and Davo Hickey 10 points.

It was a night to forget for Perth, with Cotton top-scoring with 20 points, Hyrum Harris adding 15, Jordan Usher 12, Alex Sarr 11 and Keanu Pinder 10.

Wildcats coach John Rillie lamented the rebounding count, but also the emotional control his team might have lost at times in front of a raucous crowd.

“Tonight it was our rebounding, and I get too emotionally invested in the game,” he said.

“Then our team follows what I behave like, so it all starts with me when we perform like that, but credit to them.

“They killed us on the glass and that allowed them to just chip away at us.”

with AAP

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.