Forget about all the what-ifs and maybes, all the doubts that it’s too great a mountain to climb - the Wollongong Hawks have come from the clouds to qualify for the NBL playoffs.
Faced with the prospect of beating Sydney on Friday night or missing the finals, the Hawks rose to the occasion, beating their arch rivals 100-87 to set up a best-of-three semifinal series with minor premiers Perth.
Wollongong still have to play Perth on Sunday afternoon in Perth in the final game of the regular season, but they cannot finish any lower than fourth.
The Hawks take on the Wildcats in game one of the semi-final series next Friday, with game two scheduled in Wollongong on March 30.
Sydney were literally shot down by the Hawks, who drilled a blistering 19/35 three-point shots.
Captain Oscar Forman paced his team with 26 points (8/12 threes), while Rotnei Clarke (7/14) scored 11 of his 24 points in the fourth quarter.
The Kings were only down by five early in the final period, but they had no answer for the mercurial Clarke.
Kevin Tiggs also shone for Wollongong with 19 points, four assists and three steals, while Rhys Martin added 18 points.
Sam Young led the Kings with 27 and Ben Madgen finished with 17.
The Hawks were staring the wooden spoon in the face seven weeks ago before fighting back with seven wins from the past eight games.
Friday’s clash was watched by a season-best crowd of 4446.
Neither team showed any signs of sudden death anxiety, rapidly trading baskets to keep the bench officials busy with the scoreboard.
Forman drained a pair of threes and Dave Gruber muscled in for two put-backs, as the Hawks built a 13-11 lead after five minutes.Madgen was cooking for the Kings and the game was tied at 19-all with three minutes remaining in the first quarter.
Tiggs showed off his range with a couple of threes, while Forman swished two more threes of his own from the left corner, pushing Wollongong’s lead up to 28-22 at quarter-time.
Forman had 14 points and Madgen led Sydney with 10.
Forman made good on his fifth three early in the second period and margin crept up to seven.
But the Kings responded with baskets by Young and Tom Garlepp to cut the home team’s lead to 33-30.
Clarke finally got untracked with his first long bomb of the game, pushing the margin back up to seven with four minutes left in the half.Young powered in for a lay-up and AJ Ogilvy’s tip-dunk cut the lead to three.
But that man Forman found his sweet spot in the left corner again, raining down his sixth three in the closing seconds for a 50-44 half-time lead.
The 31-year-old forward had 20 points (6/8 threes), while Tiggs had racked up 11 points, three assists and two steals.
Young was up to 13 points and Madgen had 11.The Hawks hit 9/20 threes in the half and out-rebounded their opponents 14-12.
But the Kings were able to stay in touch on the strength of a 57 per cent shooting clip.
Jesse Sanders twisted his way through the defence for two lay-ups, but Clarke splashed a duo of threes and Forman made his seventh and the margin swelled to nine with five minutes remaining in the third quarter.It got as high as 11, but Sydney weren’t about to surrender, slicing Wollongong’s lead to 71-66 with a quarter to play.
The Hawks weathered another Kings surge, as Martin found Clarke for an open three which made it 81-70 with seven minutes to play.
Sydney made another run before Clarke hit another three to give Wollongong a 90-79 lead with three minutes on the clock.
Hawks coach Gordie McLeod loved what he saw, never calling a time-out at any stage of the second half.