WILLETTON Tigers were defeated in game one of its best-of-three semi-finals series, going down 85-81 to Perth Redbacks after a stirring second half comeback attempt fell short at Willetton Basketball Stadium on Saturday night.
The Tigers got off to a great start, jumping out of the gates with a 7-0 run after a minute of play, but the Redbacks were quick to find their feet and level the scores a few minutes later, and from that point the first half belonged to the Redbacks.
Boasting a talented trio of big men in American Lee Roberts, Michael Vigor and former Perth Wildcats champion Shawn Redhage, the Redbacks had some serious front-court firepower, and controlled the first half with good ball movement, and getting the ball inside to their bigs.
The Tigers trailed 28-18 at quarter time, then fell behind by as much as 15 points for stretches during the second quarter before a few late baskets nearing half-time kept the deficit at 10 points, down 51-41 at the main break.
The Redbacks stayed in control for much of the third quarter, taking a 63-47 lead midway through, but a stunning 19-4 run by the Tigers over the final five minutes of the period – highlighted by a huge dunk from Ray Turner, and then pull-up triples from Damien Scott and Jay Bowie – saw the Tigers cut the margin to one point by three-quarter-time, 67-66.
The fourth quarter was a close tussle throughout, and things were getting testy, as Tigers captain Kyle Armour and Redbacks shooter Ben Smith exchanged words at half court.
Both teams had important players foul out; Vigor picked up five fouls for the Redbacks with four minutes left, while both Tigers stars Bowie and Turner fouled out.
The outcome easily could have gone either way, but it was the Redbacks who made more plays when it mattered.
Redhage showed his class as a four-time NBL champion, sinking a crucial hook-shot with 40 seconds left to put the Redbacks up 81-77.
Then after Turner responded for the Tigers to cut it back to a two-point margin, Redhage made a beautiful dash to the basket off a pick and roll play, and was fouled by Turner (his fifth) on a block from behind.
With Turner watching from the bench, Redhage knocked down both free-throws, helping the Redbacks hang on in a thriller.
After the game, Tigers coach Stephen Black said his team did not play with the required level of energy early in the game.
“I was very disappointed with the way we came out to start the game” he said.
“I thought it was an issue in the previous series, and I thought we’d addressed what we needed to do, so it was disappointing that we lacked the energy that we needed to be successful.
“It was great to see us claw our way back and start to do some of those things, but in the end you can’t put yourself in that hole,” Black said.
Turner top-scored for Willetton with 25 points and 11 rebounds, while Bowie had 19 points and six rebounds. Damien Scott had 13 points, seven rebounds and five assists.
The leading scorers for the Redbacks were their trio of bigs; Roberts finished with 21 points and 16 rebounds, Redhage had 20 points and 10 rebounds, while Vigor finished with 17 points.
Redbacks coach Nik Lackovic said he was pleased to pick up an important victory away from home, but isn’t getting too ahead of himself after one game.
“We’re very happy, but it’s only one game and this is a series,” Lackovic said.
The Tigers will now need to win this Friday night at Belmont Oasis, and then again Saturday night at Willetton to claim the series.