The Perth Redbacks produced their best all-round performance of the NBL1 West Men’s Division season on Saturday night and the timing was perfect as it booked them a place in the second week of the playoffs.
It had been a rollercoaster ride throughout the regular season for the Redbacks both in terms of performance and personnel available, and that meant they finished in seventh position after winning just one of their final four games.
However, the returns of Zac Gattorna and Joel Wagner proved game changers for the Redbacks on Saturday night as they played their best all-round team game of the season in the do-or-die elimination final with the Warwick Senators at Warwick Stadium.
Everything went on for the line between two teams who had such high hopes for this inaugural NBL1 West season, but by the finish the Redbacks had proven too strong and ended up winning impressively 111-88.
What it means is that the Redbacks advance their season into a semi-final this Friday night against the Willetton Tigers at Willetton Basketball Stadium. Win that and they take on the Perry Lakes Hawks at Bendat Basketball Centre for a spot in the Grand Final the following Saturday.
The elimination final on Saturday night looked about as evenly matched as you will get between the Senators and Redbacks coming into the game at Warwick Stadium, but it was the visitors fired up to make a statement.
The Redbacks might not have come into the finals with great momentum, but they did regain Joel Wagner and Zac Gattorna who missed the last two weeks, and for whatever reason, they came out with great energy and confidence.
The Senators did appear a little flat from the outset and with Louis Timms proving too much to handle for Warwick with Ash Litterick limited to just 11 minutes, the Redbacks had the answer of the best big man on the floor.
They worked off that nicely and playing with greater confidence, the Redbacks started well away from home and managed to lead 29 to 18 by the end of the first quarter.
The Senators got rolling offensively in the second term, but they couldn’t halt the Redbacks up the other end meaning Perth went into the half-time break still leading 59-46.
Warwick would continue to threaten a comeback throughout the entire second half, but each time they hit a big shot and did begin to get things rolling their way, the Redbacks would answer.
The Senators kept on coming, though, with their seasons on the line but it was Zac Gattorna who made the biggest plays of the night to ice the win for the Redbacks.
With Warwick back within single figures and with the home crowd in strong voice behind them, Gattorna nailed two huge three-pointers for the Redbacks on back to back plays.
He then sealed the deal on the very next possession. With the defence closing out on him, he dished off a beautiful pass inside to Timms who threw down a monster dunk and the Redbacks were on the way to the 111-88 win.
Redbacks coach CJ Jackson calling a timeout with a 19-point lead and just over a minute left on the clock didn’t quite go down well with Mike Ellis or the Senators, but nonetheless Perth advances to the semi-finals and the season of Warwick came to an end.
“I 100 per cent believe that it was the best game we’ve played the whole season. It probably illustrated for us and the Redbacks fans, and our whole club, that when we are together and at our best, we can be the most dangerous team in the comp or close to it,” Jackson said.
“We just have the talent and pieces that make us hard to stop, but that’s only when we play the right way. When anyone starts to think about themselves and goes individual, then we know what can happen.
“But when we play like we did as a team in this game, I don’t think there’s a team that can stop us because of our talent level, how deep and athletic we are. When our shots are falling and we are playing like that, I just don’t think anyone can stop us.”
The Redbacks just came out an inspired outfit from the outset and they kept shooting at a high clip the entire night, finishing up hitting 40/67 at 59.7 per cent from the field and 13/27 at 48.2 per cent from deep. Warwick went 44.6 per cent from the field and 20.8 from the three-point line.
When the four guns from the Redbacks are firing they are mighty tough to stop, and they all had tremendous games on Saturday night.
Louis Timms was the dominant figure on the floor with 32 points, seven rebounds, three assists and two blocks on shooting a phenomenal 13/17 overall and 3/4 from deep.
Zac Gattorna was outstanding too with 25 points, nine rebounds, five assists and two steals while Tevin Jackson added 20 points, six boards and three assists, and Marshall Nelson 19 points, five rebounds and five assists.
Add in captain Joel Wagner’s six points, five assists and three rebounds, and it was the best display all season against quality opposition from the Redbacks.
“It also illustrated how much we’ve been missing Zac with his athleticism, shot-making ability and he was pretty big for us,” Jackson said.
“But I must say, I was impressed with everyone but I think it was Louis who played his best game for the club. This was a much more controlled game from him and he shot the ball a lot more to his character, took the right shots and still scored 30.
“He had rebounds, he had dunks and he had the kind of impact game we’ve been wanting from him.”