The battle of Storm and Rockets with the playoff title up for grabs

27/04/2024

The most eagerly-awaited game over this past week for all supporters of both Hemel Storm and Reading Rockets. Both teams are familiar with the venue; familiar with each other. But there can only be one winner to take the playoff crown.

Both teams come into this with something to play for. For Reading, correcting their wrongs from their National Cup final defeat to MK Breakers will be etched onto their minds as they approach this fixture. As for Storm, retaining the playoff championship after last season’s triumph sets this game up to be one of the most intense affairs of the season.

Looking at the opposition, Reading Rockets come into the final having made a statement victory over regular season champions Derby Trailblazers on the road, and will certainly look to upset the Storm fans on Sunday. Coached by Samit Nuruzade, the Rockets have a roster full of talented players and good depth, which could prove to be vital towards the closing stages of the encounter. However, the Rockets’ main threat will be Australian guard Mitch Clarke, who has had a fantastic season. Having averaged 15.8 points per game over the course of the season, Clarke always stamps his authority on big occasions, most notably scoring 20 points in the National Cup final defeat to MK Breakers. He is one which Storm must focus on as his three point accuracy alongside his ability to initiate contact inside the paint make him a problem to guard.

Despite Rockets having an impressive array of guards in Jenkins, Pinnock and Powell, their aerial side to the game is just as good. Christian Alexander has always proved himself a handful, using his athleticism in the paint on both ends of the court. In the last outing between the two sides, the matchup between Alexander and Nelson-Henry of Storm looked to be an interesting one, as both players were able to make for what was a fantastic game. If Alexander was to get into foul trouble, Fin Porter always proves to be a trusted replacement, as he also is able to use his height to his advantage underneath the rim.

The Rockets have a closely-knit team, who each work for each other on both ends of the floor. This was particularly shown in the first quarter of the playoff quarter final as they won that 33-6, which was able to set the tone for the rest of that affair. Storm must remain focused as Reading will pose a threat all game.

On the other hand, Storm come into the final having triumphed in a narrow victory at home to Bradford Dragons. Having gone down to the final possession of the game, Storm will be looking for a more convincing victory, to ensure a less nervy ending. Despite injuries to key men Brayden Inger and Hakeem Sylla, Storm will be looking to show the character they did in the semi final to leave the final having no regrets.

The key player Reading will have their eyes on for Storm will be American Taylor Johnson. Johnson has proved his worth on many occasions whilst wearing the Storm jersey. Having averaged 21.7 points per game during his shorter stint at the club, Johnson will have his eyes set on producing another masterclass, as he picked up MVP in each of Storm’s finals last season. Storm will also look to seasoned players Sam Newman and Darien Nelson-Henry and the energy and intensity of Veron Eze, and Tez Allen to work with each other and focus on achieving that team goal which is playoff success.

The playoff finals have been known for low scoring affairs, as the pressure of the occasion has caught teams cold throughout the whole of the NBL. However, leaving the arena after the game is over having no regrets over the performance is the key to a successful team. Both teams will feel the contrast between nervousness and confidence, as this looks to be an intense game throughout. It is currently 1-1 in the series, with this 3rd game proving the most significant.

For those who have not bought their tickets for the game or booked coach travel, head to this link for all information about the day. Your support has been amazing all season. Sunday is the day when memories can be made. This game does not get any bigger with the clash between two familiar foes.

Written by Ollie Heathcote

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