Illawarra coach Rob Beveridge has proclaimed the Hawks will show ‘no fear’ in their quest for a second NBL title after locking in a semi-final showdown with minor premiers Adelaide 36ers over the weekend.
The Hawks (15-13) clinched their spot in the post-season with a 106-79 demolition of wooden spooners Brisbane Bullets on Saturday evening, but had to wait until the last match of the round to officially find out the 36ers would be their finals opponent.
Perth’s determined 96-94 win over Melbourne United on Sunday afternoon secured their passage to a 31st consecutive finals appearance and set up a playoff date with Cairns Taipans.
The result saw the Hawks slip to fourth spot which meant a trip to Adelaide in the opening round of the finals.
They will begin a best-of-three series away on Thursday night before returning to Wollongong next Sunday afternoon.
Game three will be played in Adelaide on Thursday, February 23 if required.
Despite finishing in top spot, Adelaide lost four straight NBL matches heading into the playoffs.
The Hawks also got the better of the 36ers during the regular season with a 3-1 series win and Beveridge insists his men won’t be taking a backward step when they meet again in the post-season.
“We respect absolutely everyone but there is no fear at all,” Beveridge said.
“I don’t care who we play. We worked hard to get here and we deserve to be in the playoffs. That is the attitude we are going with. We don’t care about the other teams, it is about us.”
The final series will be the Illawarra’s second consecutive playoff appearance under Beveridge.
The enormity of the achievement wasn’t lost on the championship winning boss, who referred to the 2016-17 campaign as the ‘toughest season I have ever coached in’.
“We are going up against the highest budget teams in the league. We are just a small country town and we are fighting above our weight,” Beveridge said.
“That there means a lot as a coach where we were tipped to come second last and here we are, legitimately in the mix for a championship. We know for us to do that we have to play great basketball.”
Illawarra put in one of their most dominant performances of the season to secure their spot in the playoffs.
Playing an undermanned Bullets squad who were assured of finishing wooden spooners, the Hawks held commanding leads at every break before prevailing by 27 points.
Sharpshooting forward Oscar Forman led the way with 26 points, including eight threes, in a match which was considered a ‘must win’ for the Hawks.
Forman felt high stakes triumph woud provide the ideal tune-up for his team’s title tilt.
“This team has been so up and down and we were saying last week how this team has been great in must win situations,” Forman said.
“Hopefully we are good from now on because they are all must win.
“The other games when we are feeling good about ourselves and we are thinking we are the front-runners, that’s when we have struggled a bit.
“But in must win situation these guys have pulled out a good performance.”