Storm reign supreme in Manchester again!

29/04/2024

Sunday 28th April
Hemel Storm 87 – 84 Reading Rockets
NBL Division One, Playoff Final

Hemel Storm successfully defended their Playoff crown as they came through another season-ending thriller against Reading Rockets. For the second week in a row they survived a shot on the buzzer, sending hearts into mouths, but prevailed victorious, sparking euphoric celebrations.

Basketball England’s showpiece event rounded off with the Division One men in action and both teams’ fantastic followings were always going to make for a good spectacle. The game didn’t disappoint and remained close throughout, both sides showing their quality and wrestled for control of the tie.

Storm’s opponents, the Rockets, were seeded fourth, one below Hemel, but came into the final after derailing league champions Derby Trailblazers’ treble hopes. Unfortunately for them, after an inspired showing, it was a loss marking two unsuccessful finals this campaign and for the second year running their Playoff campaign ended at the buzzer against Storm.

Sam Newman picked up his second MVP award in three days, after claiming the Storm Fans’ MVP title in Friday night’s End of Season Awards, and it felt a fitting end to his fourth year at the club where he has emerged as a real talisman. An understated, but crucial, figure in last year’s unbeaten season, Newman took the transitional period upon his shoulders and has led the squad in fine style, both on and off the court this year. A phenomenal all-round stat-line of 18 points, 8 assists, 5 rebounds and 5 steals capped off a terrific season and he exerted tremendous control to take his side over the line in the most tense of finales.

A word also for Darien Nelson-Henry who posted a double-double of 17 points and 11 rebounds. It completed a tumultuous four-month period for the ex-Leicester Riders man, after returning from retirement to join the club and then being required to play more minutes than anticipated after the squad was left decimated with injuries. Here, Nelson-Henry looked little like a man ready to give up, instead using his BBL stature and fighting spirit to propel his troops on. His addition to the roster has no doubt been a key part of Storm’s post-season success; a calm head to steady and push on a young team.

After all the build up, it was the Rockets who started the faster. Racing out the blocks, they grabbed an early seven point lead, punishing Storm especially from the three-point arc. Contrastingly, Storm operated almost exclusively from inside with their long range efforts not falling, resulting in them repeatedly calling on Nelson-Henry. It took until the ninth minute for their first triple, from the returning Brayden Inger, and a second quick-fire three from Newman helped Storm squeeze the gap to one.

Inger, whose return from an ankle injury came earlier than expected and provided Storm with a significant boost, carried on from where he left off with his grit, tenacity and solid shooting. There was much to be said, also, for his selflessness in putting his body on the line and risking his personal fitness for the team before he heads off to New Zealand for more basketball action.

The game swung back-and-forth in the second quarter with the Rockets’ impressive shooting continuing but Storm managed to stay in touch. Taylor Johnson rallied, leading all scorers with 26, and at the half-time interval his side trailed by four: 44-40.

Still, no-one could pull away and despite Storm constantly trailing they remained firmly attached to their opponents tails. With an admirable fanbase roaring them on, they stayed well in touch and the third quarter ended at 66-64; all very much to play for in the final 10 minutes.

Storm finally regained the game’s lead at the start of the fourth and even threatened to pull away. However, Reading’s determined performance wouldn’t allow that and come the closing stages were within one shot of the game, after Sam Newman’s free-throw. That left them seven seconds to make-up three points, and a frenetic blast of basketball saw the Rockets’ miss two shots but claim two offensive rebounds before Elijah Maynard’s effort rattled around the rim and dropped out, marking back-to-back Playoff wins for Storm.

In a year where Storm struggled initially, battled through adversity of squad changes and injury mid-season, Mark Clark led his troops through the fight and emerged triumphant at the last. The hard work and sacrifices were all worth it once more as the curtain closed on another Storming campaign.

Written by Callum Humphrey
Photos below by Basketball England

 

 

Copyright Hemel Storm Basketball