I was lucky enough to have one of my friends (thanks Nick!) hook me up with a ticket to the Gold Coast Blaze's home-opener on Sunday. I've got a friend's 40th coming up at Hyatt Coolum so I planned a quiet one this weekend and the Blaze game was the highlight. The first live game of the NBL season is always a highlight and after some major changes to the lineup, it was going to be interesting to see how the team looked.
The "look" was answered pretty quickly when Gold Coast found themselves down double-digits early in the game. Another friend who was at the game text me saying, "Worst game ever" as the Blaze found themselves down by 22 points in the 3rd quarter.
Just before it seemed that the home crowd were about to give up, the Blaze finally started to make some shots and they started to show some life. Sparked by Chris Goulding off the bench and solid play from Anthony Petrie, the Blaze started to work their way back in to the game. Superstar Mark Worthington also found his range and there was still hope.
Each time Gold Coast looked like it would cut the margin back to single figures, Townsville would immediately answer to keep them at bay. With just over 2 minutes in the game, Townsville led by 12 and I figured there just wasn't enough time left for them to really have a chance. A couple of turnovers from the Crocs and a couple of triples from the Blaze and the game was well and truly on. Miraculously the Blaze hit tough shot after tough shot and tied the game with 18 seconds to go.
It was here where the game turned on its head. Crocs point guard, ex-Detroit Piston, Will Blalock wound down the clock at the top of the key before driving left and putting up a tough runner. It missed and the last few seconds players were scrapping for the ball without anyone gaining control. Just as time expired the baseline ref blew a foul in favour of the Crocs and it looked like Gabe Freeman would step to the line to win the game. The Crocs celebrated but the Blaze were saying that time had expired and the whistle was blown after the buzzer. Head referee Scott Butler conferred with the scorer's bench and after much discussion ruled that time had expired and we were going to overtime.
Not surprisingly, Trevor Gleeson (Crocs coach) and the Townsville bench exploded at the decision. I'm not impartial, but considering the way the game played out in the final quarter, it would have been a terrible injustice to have the game decided on a scrappy play in the final milliseconds.
History now shows that the Blaze continued the momentum in to extra-time and got the win 94-90.
For the Blaze:
Worthington had 26 points (on 8 of 12 from the field), 6 boards
Petrie had 17 points (on 7 of 9 from the field), 9 boards
Harvey had 13 points, 8 boards
For the Crocs:
Blalock had 18 points
Cedar had 17 points with 5 triples
Freeman had 14 points, 7 boards
My notes from the game:
* Disappointing crowd numbers but that can be put down to the V8's, first game of the season, Sunday afternoon time-slot, etc
* Blaze are yet to secure a naming rights sponsor (they didn't have one last season either)
* Blaze were awful from the free-throw line (21 of 35) and need to work on this
* Blaze playing with one import, James Maye, and he'll have to do a LOT of work to survive the next month
* Blaze will take time to gel but showed in the final quarter that they should be ok
* Crocs have a good, deep team and they just had a rough weekend on the road