Tassie topple Wildcats to advance to NBL Grand Final after United bring Hawks down to earth


As Perth Wildcats coach John Rillie defended his club over the handling of a star player, Tasmania JackJumpers mentor Scott Roth has been left beaming with pride over reaching another NBL Championship Series.

The JackJumpers produced a tremendous performance at RAC Arena on Wednesday night to win game three of their Playoff Series against the Wildcats 100-84 to set up a Championship Series with Melbourne United.

While the Wildcats season ended with a lot to be proud of after finishing second at the end of the regular season, Rillie came out swinging post-match.

Star big man Keanu Pinder was a match-winner in game one last Friday with 25 points including a career-best five three-pointers.

But he found the going harder on Monday in Hobart playing under 14 minutes for seven points and five rebounds.

Then on Wednesday, he went scoreless in 19 and-a-half minutes, after the Wildcats had been challenged following footage on Monday which appeared to show Pinder suffering from a head knock.

Rillie came to the defence of the club and was fuming over the distraction caused by speculative comments about Pinder, who had to undergo concussion testing.

“We have a qualified medical staff and I have my players’ wellbeing at the highest on my list,” he said.

“When we have uneducated comments being made about something that happened, I would question whether those people really have the player’s wellbeing at the forefront of their mind.

“It’s very disappointing and it was a distraction, absolutely.”

Tasmania, meanwhile, turn their attention to their Championship Series against Melbourne United with the opening game on Sunday at John Cain Arena in Melbourne.

It is a second appearance battling for the title in the three years the JackJumpers have been in the NBL and they’re hoping to go one better than last season when they pushed the New Zealand Breakers to three games.

They produced a commanding game three performance with 24 points and nine assists from Milton Doyle, a career-best 27 points from Jack McVeigh and Will Magnay delivering 18 points and nine rebounds.

Their defence proved stifling with their spirit, heart and desire shining through as Roth focused on bringing a championship back to Tasmania.

Milton Doyle drives to the basket in Perth. (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

“”This is a win for Tasmania, a place that we love and we defend the island for them, and there’s 500,000 there who were cheering for us tonight and we felt that energy,” he said.

“My driving force is to bring something back into Tasmania and win a championship to allow these people to celebrate the moment.

“People like to step onto Tasmania with whatever they want to say about us and not give us the respect we deserve, but the people are hardworking, loving families who really just want the best for whatever’s going on in the state.

“They’ve rallied around this team and me personally to bring a championship back, it won’t change my life, but it will change 500,000 people’s lives if we can bring something like that back into the state who need something to continue to rally around.

“Our guys are very passionate about what we do there and I can’t thank the fan base enough.”

United hold off gallant

NBL title-favourites Melbourne United have held off a spirited Illawarra Hawks challenge to book their place in the Championship Series for the first time in three years.

Melbourne never trailed in their 100-94 win at John Cain Arena on Wednesday night but were pushed all the way before Shea Ili made decisive plays in the dying stages to settle a gripping contest.

The experienced guard gave United crucial breathing space with an aggressive drive and finish under pressure in the final 30 seconds before adding another two points from the foul line.

Ili finished with a personal season-high 22 points and blunted Illawarra weapon Tyler Harvey to help United close out the best-of-three Playoffs series, following a split pair of overtime thrillers in the opening two games.

Sam Froling (23 points) and Justin Robinson (19 points, seven assists) did their best to lift the fourth-seeded Hawks to another upset win but there was no repeat of the underdogs’ game-two heroics.

Melbourne, who topped the regular-season ladder with a 20-8 record, now have the chance to add to the 2018 and 2021 titles won under this season’s coach of the year Dean Vickerman.

They will face the Tasmania JackJumpers in the best-of-five season decider, starting on Sunday.

NBA prospect Luke Travers (15 points, 11 rebounds) helped spark Melbourne’s 15-6 opening against Illawarra and scored seven points in a 9-0 run at the start of the third period that blew the margin out to 16 points.

Veteran leader Matthew Dellavedova (11 points, five assists) was an influential figure throughout, while Ian Clark (14 points), Chris Goulding (14) and Jo Lual-Acuil Jr (13) were also busy.

United repeatedly created double-figure buffers but were never fully able to break the Hawks’ spirit.

“They’re just a team that never quits,” Vickerman said. “We had them down heavy and they just kept making plays … it just felt like that all throughout the game.

“We were making some really good runs but they were just good enough to keep coming back.

“But there was a will and a desire with us tonight and Delly (Dellavedova) really drove that throughout this series.”

The result put an end to Illawarra’s rags-to-riches run, as last year’s wooden spooners fell one game short of the season decider.

The Hawks shot themselves in the foot, making just 24 of 38 free throws, and coach Justin Tatum conceded his side didn’t match Melbourne’s intensity early, which left them playing catch-up.

“They had us down and got their mojo going,” Tatum said. “They’ve got too many vets and too many guys that have won championships before.

“When they had us on the back of our heels they got it going and we never responded like we’re supposed to.

“We should’ve focused better on the free-throw line, knowing that we’re on the road.

“Guys had opportunities to cut the lead down, but it wasn’t just the free throws.

“There were other things that we could’ve capitalised on but missing 14 doesn’t help.”

Melbourne are now aiming for a third championship under the United moniker, after four previous titles as the Melbourne Tigers.

An NBL foundation club in 1979, the Hawks are still without a title since their sole championship back in 2001.

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