The Wollongong Hawks dream of winning a most improbable NBL Championship, after nearly becoming extinct 12 months ago, remains alive after a gruelling 75-63 win over the Perth Wildcats in game two of the best-of-three series.
The Hawks trailed by four at quarter time and a single point at the main break, but their execution in the second half enabled them to get higher percentage shots than Perth in the second half. The Hawks 47% to 37% shooting from the field, along with a 33-28 rebounding advantage, would prove the difference in a physical affair.
With the refs abandoning regular season interpretations and putting the whistle away, it was anything but pretty, but former Australian Boomers reserve Luke Martin again stepped off the bench to spark the Hawks to a tough win in front of a sell out crowd of 5700.
In 2005 things were going well for Martin, having just won two consecutive championships with the Sydney Kings and being selected to represent his country. That was until a broken leg at the Stankovic Cup in China almost ended his career.
Like his Wollongong Hawks team, 2010 has been a story of revival for Martin, and the Wildcats had no answer for his lightning penetration, accurate three point shooting and dogged defence. The 181cm dynamo finished with 11 points on 3/3 from deep and 5 assists.
One of the main beneficiaries of Martin’s work was power forward Cameron Tragardh, who bounced back from a 5-point horror in game one to record 28 points on 12/19 shooting. Tragardh found his way into every crack in the Perth defence, taking the Hawks on his back in the third quarter after Perth had led the entire first half.
With the Australian squad for the FIBA World Championship in Turkey to be announced shortly, Tragardh did his chances no harm with a dominant display.
Tragardh is key to the Hawks chances in game three, and coach Gordie McLeod must have been delighted to see his star forward and his team shake off Perth’s physical defence to re-establish their slick pass and cut offence.
For Perth, only import Kevin Lisch (11 points, 1/7 3pfg) and young gun Stephen Weigh (10 points) reached double figures, but no Perth player won their position on the night, and the Wildcats must now win the championship on their home court this Friday night (12 March) Australian time.
Another dour struggle is to be expected with few fouls being whistled. Scoring has dropped by 30 points per game from the regular season to the grand final, and this favours the Wildcats with their rabid home crowd behind them.
But Wollongong’s only other NBL title was won in front of a hostile Townsville crowd, so who is to say that fairytales don’t come true?