It was my first time catching an away game for the Dragons, and to make it even more memorable – I was going to be watching Game 4 of the NBL finals on the home court of the Melbourne Tigers. The State Netball Hockey Centre, where the Dragons lost 88-83 to the Tigers in Game 2.
Could the Dragons work a miracle and trump the Tigers on their home ground? One could not help but wonder. I must say though, the sudden downpour before the game must have dampened the mood of many a fervent fan (and their shoes too).
The Cage turned out to be much smaller than Hisense Arena, and gave a cosier atmosphere. I was seated with a whole bunch of Dragons fans, and the sea of black made up a quarter of the total seats. The Tigers fans were greater in number, enthusiastic, loud and well-armed with their clappers. And did I mention the balloons they were waving around in the second half? Talk about anti-free throw strategies, NBA-style.
The match began in ernest, and it was anything but spectacular. The Dragons were playing horribly in the first quarter, only managing to score after nearly five minutes.
Worthington’s energetic plays in Game 3 seemed to have vanished, and the Dragons failed miserably from the three point line. Burston, who had done well in the previous games, seemed to be a little lost in offense. Horvath was definitely not pulling his weight in defense. He failed in switching defense on the Tigers with his teammates, and gave plenty of open shots to the Tigers. Needless to say, leaving the Tigers unmarked on their home court was tantamount to suicide.
Ebi on the move, via nbl.com.au.
The Dragons never managed to retake control of the game, and their full court press came about too late, ending with 108-95. Perhaps they would have fared better if they had stuck to using Smith and Durden. Instead of focusing on their outside game, the duo charged inwards and cut up the zone, managing to drop the Tigers’ lead below 10 points. I must admit, at that point it seemed hopeful. Had they persisted in their efforts and had Burston/Horvath benched, things might have changed.
I must applaud Anstey’s composure in this game, however. He did not respond in any way, despite the racuous calls of “ELBOWWWWWWWW!!” from some Dragons fans. He was simply magnificent in his shooting consistency. Free throws, turnaround jumpers, three pointers, he did it all. The Dragons simply failed to stop him, period.
Had the NBL tribunal forced him into the one game suspension after the elbow incident with Carter on Game 3, things would have been different, and the Dragons would have walked away with a 3-1 win. The claim about lifting the suspension based on his clean record is utter BS; it’s just like saying a robber should be found innocent on his first mugging because he was a good boy before that. “So we’ll let you off this time, and double the jail time if we find you doing it again.” Does that make sense to you?
Crosswell, who had been lacking in accuracy in the Hisense games, came alive and scored plenty of mid-range jumpers as well. Barlow and Ebi contributed much to the game with their shots too. Not to mention the fact that they had great defense in this game; the half court press simply killed the Dragons’ outside game, and forced them to penetrate.
I remembered cringing whenever the Tigers hit a well-placed shot, or got another offensive rebound and converted the basket. Whatever progress that was made in chasing the lead, vanished yet again. They had Anstey in the paint, and plenty of ready shooters on the outside. The Dragons on the other hand, were failing in their threes and could only hope to score a two, and create a turnover with their defense. Everyone would be watching the Tigers’ shot clock count down.. and a foul would be committed by some Dragon or other. There goes the defense, poof.
And that was the way the story went. Off to Game 5, crap.