THE tears in the eyes of Joondalup Wolves captain Seb Salinas and the level of elation in the Perry Lakes Hawks camp said it all.
The Hawks’ jubilation at the closing of the State Basketball League grand final was the kind that only comes when you pinch a championship you weren’t meant to win.
And the emotion of Salinas and his teammates reflected the depth of the sting of a third-straight grand final loss.
They thought it was their time after back-to-back championship losses.
They thought they had found the missing pieces to the puzzle. A three-peat of defeats in the final game of the season could not be considered.
But it happened in a pulsating 94-87 contest on Saturday in front of a raucous packed house at Bendat Basketball Centre where the Hawks never trailed at any point of the game.
The champions, who finished the season in fourth, held their biggest lead of 13 points with two minutes to go in the first half.
The Wolves pegged it back to twice draw even in the third quarter and trail by just four points heading into a riveting final term after some fancy footwork from Joondalup import Brian Sullivan (13 points) got him clear for a roof-raising three-point swish on the buzzer.
Joondalup got within one point of the Hawks four minutes into the last quarter after Salinas (eight points) drained a three, but Perry Lakes had an answer for everything that was thrown at them.
Salinas’ disappointment was clear when he spoke to Community News after the game.
“Three in a row, we’re starting to get a bit over it,” he said.
“Straight after the game, you just wonder ‘what’s the point?’.
“You bust your butt all pre-season and all season and you get to this point expecting to win and to fall so short is gut wrenching but, silly me, I’ll probably come back next year and do it all again.”
Salinas wrote the loss off as a “tough one to explain”.
“I think we just didn’t take our opportunities when we needed to,” he said.
“They played an excellent game. They shot the ball well and pretty much had all the loose balls.
“In a game like that, a team that does all the little things is going to win in the end.”
Perry Lakes Hawks captain Ben Purser was named grand final MVP with a decisively disciplined display at both ends of the court leaving him two assists short of a triple double.
The fan favourite was rock solid on defence and creative on offence, scoring 12 points, dishing a game-high eight assists and taking 10 rebounds.
Despite the impressive figures, Purser thought he had “struggled”.
He said it was “part joy and part relief” to have finally won a decider after losses in 2009 and 2011 – the latter being a memorable contest against the Wolves.
“I don’t think anyone thought we would win tonight. The only people who thought we could win would be us and our close fans,” he said.
“The fact that everyone stepped up – we had been doing it all year – but to do it on the big stage was amazing.”
The Wolves were again left wondering what they had done to upset the basketball gods, with their shooting, like the previous two grand finals, going awry at the worst possible time.
Joondalup managed 37.7 per cent from the field, while Perry Lakes took 48 per cent including 9-24 at the three-point line.
As Wolves’ coach Ben Ettridge predicted in the lead up to the game, Perry Lakes big man Brian Carlwell made a point of stepping up in the absence of injured inside player Jacob Holmen, hitting 21 points and landing a game-high 18 rebounds with two blocks.
Carlwell had an enticing duel with Wolves star Jalen Billups who returned a team-high 13 rebounds and 22 points with a monster one-handed stuff four minutes into the third period as the Wolves were surging.
Billups felt the wrath of a well-lubricated Hawks crowd late in the last quarter when he air balled a free throw – an example of the kind of frustrations the Wolves were having at the hoop.
Perry Lakes’ Ryan Smith led all scorers with 24 points, while dangerous Wolves import Sullivan was well held by the Hawks’ Mitchell Clarke.
Joondalup’s Rob Huntington toiled through a huge workload, playing all but 5 minutes of the clash to score 19 points and take six rebounds.
His teammate Trian Iliadis (15 points) was desperately looking to re-capture the form that had him named grand final MVP in 2015, but was unable to do so.
He could, however, be satisfied as one of his side’s main contributors this time around after disappointing performances in the past two championship games.
The game began at a frenetic pace, with Perry Lakes the better at handling the intensity.
The Hawks opened their account with a three-pointer to Lochlan Cummings (23 points) and finished the period with a 56.3 per cent clip hitting 3-7 from the three-point line compared with the Wolves 38.9 per cent from the field and 2-9 from downtown.
It set the foundation for a resilient display of championship basketball.