They’ve done it. The Jackies are on the march and the fairytale is yet to be told after expansion club Tasmania pulled off one of the biggest NBL playoff upsets in recent memory, eliminating top-of-the-table Melbourne United.
And it was an angry ant who sucked all the life out of the home crowd, the remarkable Josh Adams jawing, yelling and draining bucket after bucket to end the reigning champions’ season in misery.
The recriminations will be severe at United but, put simply, the Jack Jumpers have had their number for much of the season.
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And so it was, with the well-co-ordinated JackJumpers’ fans drowning out the United crowd from their perch in a number of bays in the southwest corner of John Cain Arena, the JackJumpers marched into the grand finale.
Less than an hour before tip-off, United lost captain Chris Goulding to a calf strain and it was downhill from there.
The Jack Jumpers, as they have done all series, continued to live up to their nickname, infesting John Cain Arena like ants with their brutal brand of physical in-your-face basketball.
Put simply, the Jackies rattled the reigning champions in a way no other team has been able to in NBL22 — and they didn’t handle the heat without their talisman.
The Jackies took two-and-a-half minutes to score their first bucket and United led 9-2 on the back of an intense defensive effort that they couldn’t sustain it early. The junkyard dog Jackies fought their way back into it and, when former United man Sam McDaniel capped a 12-2 run with a brilliant finish among the trees and converted from the free throw line, they led 14-11.
But Shea Ili, as he so often has, propelled United with nine first-quarter points while Jack White was an absolute monster on the boards as Melbourne took a 25-21 lead into the first break.
The animated, tattooed Adams is the type of cult figure who is beloved by his own supporters and draws the ire of opposing fans.
But he has the game to back it up and his nine points in the second quarter squared it all up at 40.
He left the floor at halftime to a chorus of boos after taking umbrage with the referee over an offensive foul call and stood there to soak it in as his teammates went down the race.
Big mistake — it energized the Phoenix native and he ignited the team from Tassie with 12 in the third to give them a six-point lead at the last break.
United would come again, on the back of star Jo Lual-Acuil Jr, who produced seven points in a 9-2 United run that gave them the lead.
But the Jackies would not be denied, producing a series of breathtaking plays down the stretch and it was fitting Adams would deliver the hammer blow — a three-pointer that put it to bed with a minute to go.
There was no coming back for the champions who now have a long off-season to ponder their missed opportunity.
We’ve all been caught up in the good news story of Tassie’s debut season but it’s time to acknowledge what they are — a very good basketball team. Unheralded Jack McVeigh might be the ‘star’, but, as a collective, they are all on the same page and do one thing very, very well — they never give up on anything. Whether it’s defensively battling — when they’re overmatched in the height and weight divisions — or just finding ways to put the ball in the bucket. Scott Roth has a deep playbook, but there is an element of organized chaos with the way any and every Jackie will take and make a three ball. You can’t help but admire the expansion club and its fans. They rode every moment, selling out MyState Bank Arena on the regular and providing plenty of traveling support wherever the Jackies played. Every club claims to have the best fans in the league — the Jackies might be on the money when they say it. Could they finish with a championship in their debut season?
BRING ON THE KINGS
Sydney enters the grand finale as the team to beat after sweeping away the second-seeded Illawarra Hawks in devastating fashion. led by NBL22 MVP Jaylen Adams, the Kings are a potent offensive team with weapons all over the floor. The Jackies are 1-2 against the Kings this season — they’ve beaten every team at least eleven on their first NBL tour. Worryingly, though, the last meeting ended in one of its biggest losses of the season, a 20-point demolition — in Tasmania. They’ll go in as heavy underdogs but it’s a title that has suited them so well throughout their debut season.
NBL GRAND FINAL SCHEDULE
Sydney Kings v Tasmanian Jack Jumpers
Game one @ Qudos Bank Arena: Friday, May 6, 7.30pm
Game two @ MyState Bank Arena: Sunday, May 8, 2.30pm
Game three @ QBA, Wednesday, May 11, 7.30pm
Game four @ MBA, Friday, May 13, 7.30pm (if required)
Game five @ QBA, Wednesday, May 18, 7.30pm (if required)
Melbourne United 73-76 Tasmanian Jack Jumpers
Ili: 18 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists
Lual-Acuil Jr: 16 points, 7 rebounds
White: 14 points, 14 rebounds
Adams: 30 points
McVeigh: 16 points