KW's deciding victory comes on the road
By José Colorado
Titanic couldn't describe it any better.
After improbably squeaking into the postseason to only then nearly succumb to a devastating first-round collapse, the KW Titans lived up to its epic naming on April 14 by resoundingly taking down the two-time defending champions, London Lightning, in a 109 -93 road win at Budweiser Gardens to clinch the 3-2 series victory.
Despite this being just the Titans' first postseason appearance, the franchise overcame some strong adversity after it dropped games three and four, pushing it to the winner-takes-all finale.
Lying in wait of that monumental event however are the St. John's Edge – a team loaded with talent who, themselves, are coming off an emotional five-game series win.
Central Division: Divisional Finals
St. John's Edge (2) vs. KW Titans (4)
Season series (win-loss): 2-1 for KW
Most recent matchup: 101 -97 win for St. John's on March 13
Games decided by single-digits: One
St. John's playoff path: 3-2 vs. Sudbury Five
KW's playoff path: 3-2 vs. London Lightning
Prediction: KW wins 4-3
Cavell Johnson's revamped rotations have certainly made things more interesting in the Central as the Titans have downsized recently electing for an optimal 'small ball' line up focused on attacking and defensive versatility.
Consider that centre Derek Hall – an integral piece of the team who is averaging 13.1 points and 8.6 rebounds - had started 33 of his club's first 34 games before shifting to his now regular bench role on March 13.
With agile guards Damon Lynn and Ashton Smith manning the backcourt, sharpshooters Tramar Sutherland (six-foot-three) and Akeem Ellis (six-foot-six) providing the long-distance relief on potential dribble penetration kick-outs and bruiser Flenard Whitfield (six-foot-seven) anchoring the middle, the Titans' starting five possess an ideal blend between defensive switchability and offensive breakdown capability (in particular with Lynn and Smith at the point of attack).
St. John's are pieced together a bit differently.
Put bluntly, on any given night their talent alone could be enough as Glen Davis, Junior Cadougan and Murphy Burnatowski – to name a few - have all showed themselves capable of taking over recently.
Beyond that it's clear the club – ranked fourth in the league in points allowed - can lock in defensively when needed.
The latest example came at the expense of league MVP Braylon Rayson as the Sudbury Five guard was held to just 16.8 points per game and 2.8 assists on a putrid 25-of-79 shooting (32 per cent) in his first-round series versus the Edge.
He finished the season averaging 24.2 points per game and 4.8 assists on 42.7 per cent shooting.
St. John's clearly has the talent advantage but KW has persevered through much and is greater than the sum of its parts; Titans in seven.
RISING TO HIS NAME:
GLEN DAVIS (BATON ROUGE, LA.) - FORWARD, ST. JOHN'S EDGE
Averaging 16.7 points per game and 7.5 rebounds on 54.6 per cent shooting, former NBA Champion Glen Davis was passed over by league coaches when it came time to vote for the Newcomer of the Year award.
The National Basketball League of Canada is pleased to announce that @J_B1and of @TheSudburyFive has been named Newcomer of the Year for the 2019 season.— NBL Canada (@NBLCanada) April 6, 2019
Full Release: https://t.co/aYjZPss1oq#RaiseTheBar pic.twitter.com/GG1jAB6jqd
It's possible the big man bristled at the announcement given his lengthy resume but nonetheless the Central Finals do present an interesting opportunity for Big Baby to validate the lengths the St. John's franchise have gone to accommodate the big man.
His offensive prowess will always be there as evidenced by his first round averages of 19.8 points per game, 12 rebounds and 3.6 assists on 62 per cent shooting from the floor.
The six-foot-nine forward possesses touch, brute strength and footwork – the stuff that made him a serviceable eight-year NBA pro.
Defense – in particular transition defense – is where Davis must really lock into for the conference finals however as the Titans have a number of big men (e.g. Justin Strings, Nigel Tyghter, Whitfield) who will dash from rim to rim on every opportunity to wear him out.
It is inevitable speedy Titan guards Lynn and Smith will break down the Edge defense from time to time so Davis must also be alert for multiple defensive efforts (i.e. helping on penetration and recovering, helping the helper).
These are all things that won't show up in the box score but could greatly impact the outcome of this Central division clash – and ultimately the true worth of experimenting on Davis.