Hemel Storm have made the final of the National League Division One Championship playoffs after defeating Reading Rockets by 23 points, 98 – 75, at Hemel Hempstead Leisure Centre on Saturday.
Hemel, who in January won the National Cup, were roared on by their usual packed crowd and despite extra seating being provided it was standing room only for some fans as tip-off approached.
For the second week in a row Storm, who are seeded seventh, defied the odds and upset a higher seed. Last week it was the number two-ranked Solent Kestrels and on Saturday the third-seeded Rockets, who Hemel had lost to 94-95 early in the season.
Saturday’s loss ended Reading’s impressive run of ten consecutive victories.
Storm will now face Worthing Thunder in the playoff final at the National Basketball Performance Centre in Manchester on Sunday, April 29, (tip-off 3.30pm).
In a competitive and hard -fought clash Reading’s American centre Tim Gill was ejected half way through the decisive third period after an unprovoked incident under the Hemel basket as Storm’s unstoppable offence threatened to dominate the game.
Frustrations appeared to boil over as Storm burst into a 64-49 lead on the back of a Mike Darlow three-pointer and a series of lock-down defensive possessions when Reading were denied any easy scoring opportunities by Hemel’s pressure defence.
For the third game in a row, Storm started the game with their ‘twin towers’ line-up featuring 7ft centre Lee Greenan and 6ft 9ins Hemel veteran forward Tom Adorian alongside American guard AJ Roberts, captain and point guard Bode Adeluola and forward Mike Darlow.
Adorian, in his sixth season with Storm, rolled back the years and made a major contribution to his team’s victory, hitting 17 points, grabbing seven rebounds and throwing three assists to finish, statistically speaking, as Storm’s most efficient player.
Hemel’s overall work ethic throughout the game was epitomised in one play when Greenan grabbed several rebounds from missed shots and finished with a powerful slam dunk as the crowd erupted.
Both sides played efficiently in the opening exchanges and traded baskets, with neither able to gain an edge with the score at 26 -25 to Storm, until Adeluola drove inside the Reading defence for a lay-up followed by a jump-shot and a Greenan dunk to open daylight between the teams, 32-27 as the first period ended.
In a carbon copy second period and with the scores at 42-41 to Hemel, the visitors were held scoreless for the last two minutes of the stanza while Adorian, Adeluola, Greenan and Dave Ajumobi found the basket to increase the Hemel lead to 51-41 as the half-time buzzer sounded.
Hemel restricted the normally high-scoring visitors to just 14 points in that period.
The fourth period was a formality and when Darlow nailed consecutive three-pointers and then Roberts also sank a long-range triple from an Adorian assist, Storm had their biggest lead of the game – 31 points – with the scoreboard showing 95-64.
A late flurry of triples from the visitors wasn’t enough to trouble the hosts who held the ball in the final seconds as the crowd gave their team a standing ovation.
The match stats showed that Hemel led in each of three key statistical areas: Storm shot at a 48 per cent success rate to Reading’s’ 42; they threw a stunning 28 assists against 19 and outrebounded the visitors 45-34 including grabbing 15 offensive boards to Reading’s six.
Storm also had six players scoring in double figures compared to Reading’s’ three.
After the game head coach Robert Youngblood was already thinking of the final, saying: “We’ve beaten a higher seed in the quarter-finals, we’ve beaten a higher seed in the semi-finals and now we have an opportunity to beat a higher seeded team again in the Championship playoff final.
“We defeated a very good Reading team tonight that was on an impressive winning run, we’ll enjoy this now but then get down to work over the next two weeks and prepare to face Worthing Thunder.
“We want to bring some more silverware back to the town.”
Storm played the Thunder twice this season in the league, losing on the south coast 72 -78 but winning at home 91-89.
Storm team and scorers v Reading: Bode Adeluola 18, AJ Roberts 17, Tom Adorian 17, Mike Darlow 16, Wayne Yeboah 12, Lee Greenan 12, Dave Ajumobi 3, Chuck Duru 2, Ladi Brown 1, Jack Burnell, Courtney Van-Beest and Walid Mumuni.
Tickets and travel details for the final in Manchester will be available soon online at www.stormbasketball.net.