Lightning win thrilling SBL decider over Wolves
THE Lakeside Lightning were the best team in the men's SBL season but it took some late clutch free-throws to secure the 2013 championship with the 77-74 victory in a tight and tense Grand Final at the WA Basketball Centre.
The Lightning had finished the regular season five games clear on top of the standings to enter the finals as warm favourites for a first championship since 2009, and fourth since 2004 but the Wolves had done a superb job to make the Grand Final from sixth position.
Lakeside held double-digit advantages at different times throughout the second and third periods to appear on target for a reasonably comfortable Grand Final win, but the Wolves refused to lie down and even managed to hit the front late in the third period.
However, the Lightning held their nerve down the stretch particularly at the free-throw line while the Wolves couldn’t get a shot to fall in the dying stages as Lakeside secured the three-point win as a perfect farewell for coach Andy Stewart who has now brought four titles to the Lightning.
The Wolves also had a farewell of their own with Damian Matacz retiring but despite his strong game of 20 points and 10 rebounds on the back of 8-of-15 shooting from the field, he just fell short of the dream farewell to the SBL.
Justin Cecil was named the Grand Final MVP for his 25 points and seven rebounds for Lakeside.
Ben Beran was hampered by a corked thigh in the third quarter but still contributed strongly with 16 points and eight rebounds even though he shot 5-of-19 from the field.
Lakeside's championship-winning captain Jarrad Prue is now the all-time leading SBL rebounder and pulled in another 22 boards in the Grand Final.
Chris Sofoulis also had 10 points for the Lightning, Jesse Dixon nine and Ryan Sofoulis seven.
As well as the strong game from Matacz, Wolves co-captain Seb Salinas had a night out with 19 points and nine rebounds highlighted by his shooting 4-of-7 from three-point territory.
Iliadis also scored 13 points and had 11 rebounds but shot 5-of-23 from the field and 1-of-11 from three-point land. Reece Maxwell added 12 points and Rob Huntington seven to go with four rebounds.
The first basket of the Grand Final came courtesy of Huntington for Wanneroo before Beran answered with a triple for the Lightning down the other end.
Neither side was able to open up a meaningful advantage during the first quarter until back-to-back Lakeside three-pointers from Chris Sofoulis and Cecil that saw the Lightning up 21-15.
It was then out to an 11-point advantage shortly before quarter-time with another triple through Cecil before Salinas answered for Wanneroo.
Prue scored on an incredible buzzer beating bank shot just on quarter-time to put Lakeside up 30-24 and that lead soon became double-figures again early in the second period.
The Wolfpack refused to go away, though, and on the back of another buzzer-beater on the half-time siren, this time to Maxwell the Wolves cut Lakeside's lead at the main break 48-42.
Beran hit a triple for Lakeside to open the scoring in the third period but Matacz soon caught fire for the first time in the game and suddenly Wanneroo was right back into the contest.
Matacz blocked a shot from Cecil and then made three straight baskets to bring the Wolves back within a solitary point just two minutes into the second half and then Wanneroo was in front on a basket from Iliadis.
A three-point play from Huntington had Wanneroo leading 57-54 shortly after but Lakeside soon regained the advantage and led 68-61 at three quarter-time.
That was soon 71-61 following a three-point play from Beran to open the final period but Wanneroo would not lie down and Salinas nailed yet another three to continue his massive Grand Final to bring the Wolves back to within five points.
A Maxwell basket then had Wanneroo back within three with six and-a-half minutes remaining before the team's stars Beran and Matacz traded a pair of free-throws with five minutes to go.
Wanneroo had a chance to close the gap further when Ryan Sofoulis was called for an unsportsmanlike foul on Iliadis, but he then missed both free-throws and turned the ball over the next possession.
Lakeside didn’t score down the other end, though, meaning the margin was still three and then one after an offensive board and put back for the Wolves from Matacz.
Iliadis and Salinas had opportunities to put Wanneroo in front but both shot air balls in the final minute.
That forced the Wolves to foul Cecil with 20 seconds on the clock. He nailed both for Lakeside to be back up 75-72 and then down the other end Iliadis missed another rushed attempt at a triple.
Cecil again went to the line and once more nailed a pair of free-throws to put Lakeside up 77-72 before Iliadis scored a field goal down the other end with seven seconds left.
Wanneroo still needed Lakeside to miss free-throws and this time it was Dixon heading to the stripe.
He missed both to give the Wolves one last opportunity but again it was Iliadis who missed his desperation three-point attempt.
Article by Chris Pike
Photo by Serene Maisey