Hurricanes, hurt by injuries, come up short in NBLC Finals
BY JOSE COLORADO FOR THE CHRONICLE HERALD
Context can smooth over many things in life.
A case in point is basketball. Launch into any ‘greatest of all-time’ discussion and hordes of basketball pundits are quick to point to Michael Jordan’s 6-0 mark in the NBA championship finals while downplaying LeBron James’ 3-4 (pending this year’s result) tally.
Never mind that James took one of the objectively worst finals rosters in NBA history to the big dance in 2007 or that he rarely came in favoured to win the title.
‘MJ’ is the greatest for his unblemished mark — or so the argument goes.
Monday night at the Budweiser Gardens brought about an interesting narrative. The London Lightning captured their third National Basketball League of Canada (NBLC) title with a 129-116 win downing the Halifax Hurricanes in Game 6 of the league’s finals.
The Lightning featured, perhaps, the most talented roster the burgeoning league has ever seen. Former first-round NBA lottery pick and league MVP Royce White was the head of the snake but the squad was also littered with a bevy of all-league performers including 2013 NBLC finals MVP Marvin Phillips, Canadian national team point guard Junior Cadougan, and one of the best shooters in league history in 2017 finals MVP Ryan Anderson.
The defeat marks a failed repeat-effort for Halifax but one would question if it could hardly be viewed in such context.
The Hurricanes were decimated with injuries late in the postseason, playing without C.J. Washington since Game 3 of the finals (season averages including playoffs: 17.1 points per game, 7.9 rebounds) and Billy White (season averages including playoffs: 17.2 points per game, 8.7 rebounds) for the decisive elimination game.
Three-point specialist and key rotational piece, Ta’Quan Zimmerman (9.9 points per game, 37.4 three-point per cent shooting), was lost entirely for the finals while Mike Poole (12 points per game, 39 games) was in and out of the lineup late in the season as he regained his footing from a bothersome hamstring injury.
All things considered then, championship or bust?
“I think it was still a success. Obviously at the end of the day you want to win. We had the team to win but a couple of things didn’t fall our way,” said Antoine Mason, who led his team with a valiant 33-point effort in Game 6.
“I definitely think it would have been a different situation if we were healthy. I mean, I can’t take anything away from them because they won but we were without our two starting (big men) — that’s nearly 45 points and 20 rebounds a game. That’s a big part of what we do.”
For the second consecutive year, Halifax resoundingly came away as the Atlantic champions. Its 27-13 (win-loss) regular season mark was leaps ahead of the Saint John Riptide’s second-place conference finish of 22-18.
The Hurricanes only lost two games prior to the finals in the postseason, sweeping the Moncton Miracles and downing the Prince Edward Island Storm in six.
All this, after Leslie took over the helm less than a month before the season-opener.
“I’ll definitely be back with the team next year. We’ll take a couple days off to reflect and look at our season from a different perspective,” said Leslie. “We have a nice fan appreciation night tomorrow and we’ll get some exit interviews but we want to continue to build the roots and image of the Hurricanes throughout the community.”
Back this year were a trio of ‘Canes from the 2015 -2016 championship roster, including White (17.2 points per game, 8.7 rebounds), Clifford Clinkscales (5.7 points per game, 8.34 assists per game) and Renaldo Dixon (8.5 points per game, 5.1 rebounds)
Familiar faces, Tyrone Watson (12.1 points per game, 8.7 rebounds) and Joey Haywood (8.5 points per game), also returned after a brief hiatus from the team.
The question now is where do the Hurricanes go from here.
High roster turnover has become a common theme in the NBLC but board member Don Mills is hopeful.
“(Player retention) was definitely one of our strategies this year,” said Don Mills, team board member. “There are a lot of these players we’d like to come back. Not even considering the on-court production, there was a ton of key connections to the community made this season. People know them and that makes the connection with the fans a lot stronger. We’re not sure how many will return but we’d be very surprised if a core group of at least four-five of them weren’t back.”