Season-ending finale awaits victorious Storm

21/04/2024

Saturday 20th April
Hemel Storm 80 – 79 Bradford Dragons
NBL Division One, Playoff Semi Final

Hemel Storm progressed to the playoff final with a win over Bradford Dragons on Saturday, in a spirited performance where Justin Williams missed a last second shot to clinch it for the visitors.

Storm looked comfortable initially and while they never pulled away, dominated the first three periods. The Dragons, however, are seasoned competitors and weren’t going to sit down without a fight producing an admirable fourth quarter display to push Storm all the way.

The Northerly visitors came into this one buzzing after taking down second seed Essex Rebels last week and were always going to make the evening’s events uncomfortable for the competition’s reigning champions.

Familiar face Ronald Blain must be desperate to get one over on his old foes Storm and he opened the scoring looking to back up his previous week’s heroics. The first quarter swung both ways but with a combined 12 points from Darien Nelson-Henry and Veron Eze, Storm edged it at 27-23.

The second period was where Storm ultimately laid the foundations for victory. A solid display of team basketball with a vociferous StormDome roaring them on saw them take the deficit to double digits.

In somewhat of a predictable sight, Taylor Johnson hit an inspired spell with his trademark tough finishing at the basket and silky shooting from the three point line, wearing his heart on his sleeve and taking the crowd with him every step of the way. Sam Newman closed the half in style with eight late points and an 11 point lead in the locker room was at least handy, if not victory secured.

Veteran coach Chris Mellor still had a few tricks to pull out of his sleeve, having made a habit of completing thrilling comeback victories and his side raced out the second-half blocks with a Jordan Whelan three pointer. The British guard was a thorn in Storm’s side all night, posting 28 points and notably playing the majority of the second half through serious foul trouble.

Darien Nelson-Henry played a phenomenal game for his side in the absence of fellow big-men Hakeem Sylla and Brayden Inger, grabbing 21 points and using his years of BBL experience to at times take matters into his own hands. A three pointer from him helped to re-establish Storm’s lead, which was chopped one to 10 at the final quarter break: 69-59.

Last week’s NBL Division 1 Player of the Week Justin Williams would have been identified as a key man to stop for the home side, especially after his dominant display earlier this season saw them crash out of the KitKing Trophy in the semi-finals at the hands of the Dragons. Fortunately for Storm, the memory was not to be repeated as some focused defence held the American to just five first half points; a total of 15 in the game.

With six minutes on the clock and a 13 point difference between the sides, you would have been forgiven for thinking the tie was over. The Dragons, though, had other ideas.

They raised the intensity and Storm, still depleted by numbers with Greg Durand and Ade Atiba also missing, ran out of gas. The visitors limited the home side to just three points from thereon in, in a mammoth effort that wasn’t quite enough come the final buzzer. Crucially, amid a barrage of Bradford scoring, Nelson-Henry held his nerve to make a duo of Storm free-throws and after a Sam Newman foul, the Dragons had just over a second to erase the one-point deficit. The play was run to find Justin Williams, who gathered his desired separation from the Storm defence but failed to connect from distance and Storm, now postseason experts, confirmed their place in a fourth consecutive showpiece finale.

Nelson-Henry led the Storm scoresheet with 21, while Sam Newman continues to step up as a leader in the squad and contributed 17 of his own. Taylor Johnson had 19 in a well-rounded team display.

A fifth Manchester trip in four years, including a Playoff and National Cup victory, looms for Storm on Sunday and they would love your support. They face fourth seed Reading Rockets, who upset the Derby Trailblazers in their own semi-final and information for the big day can be found at www.stormbasketball.net shortly.

Check out the game day photos here.

Written by Callum Humphrey
Photos by Matt Cook

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