Hawks seal finals berth with win over Wildcats
The Illawarra Hawks have sealed a fairytale finals appearance under star coach Brian Goorjian, defeating the Perth Wildcats 81-79 at the WIN Entertainment Centre on Tuesday night.
Hawks star Tyler Harvey poured in a game-high 27 points, including two big-time threes in the final 90 seconds, to help take last year's wooden spooners to the semi-finals.
The win also stretches Goorjian's run of NBL playoff finishes to a remarkable 21st consecutive season, cementing his status as arguably the nation's greatest coach in any sporting code.
Illawarra led at every change but the Wildcats refused to go away, with neither side leading by more than four points in a heart-stopping final quarter in Wollongong.
Perth forward Jesse Wagstaff responded to a huge stepback three from Harvey to put his team up by one with 1:18 remaining when the American import connected another bomb at the top of arch.
Harvey and backcourt Justinian Jessup then split a pair of free throws each, giving John Mooney a chance to win the game on the buzzer, but his attempt sailed wide.
Improved forward Sam Froling added 12 points for the home side, including a highlight-reel dunk over former NBA big man Will Magnay in the third quarter.
The defeat for the Wildcats cruels their hopes of usurping ladder-leaders Melbourne United, whom they host on Friday, and again raises questions about their ability without injured star Bryce Cotton.
Mooney (14 points and 15 rebounds) was the only starter in double figures, with Clint Steindl (15 points) and Wagstaff (12 points) the only other major contributors.
"Crunch situation like that, we've always given the ball to Bryce. He gets double-teamed and finds the open player," Perth coach Trevor Gleeson said.
"We've got to navigate without that. Effort and intensity was great. That's something that's going to hold us in good stead going into the playoffs."
Illawarra close out the regular season when they host the Sydney Kings, who are an outside chance of sneaking into fourth spot, on Thursday night.
Perth return home to face Melbourne on Friday, knowing they cannot finish any higher than second.