In the Post BlackJacks

Well, another successful CEBL season is in the books.

Four teams entered the playoff bubble in Edmonton, and when the dust had settled, the hometown Stingers were able to defend their title. Those in attendance were treated to two highly entertaining semi-final matchups, and a championship showdown that… let’s just say left little doubt who the better team was.

Let’s look back at the most exciting weekend in Canadian basketball and how it all played out.

Bandits vs River Lions

The weekend started off with a showdown between the number-four seed Fraser Valley Bandits and the number-two Niagara River Lions.

The Bandits came into the game on a bit off a hot streak, closing out the season with back-to-back victories over the Saskatchewan Rattlers before earning their spot in the bubble with an impressive showing against Guelph in the quarterfinals. They looked vastly improved from the team that endured a 1-7 stretch in the 8 games prior.

On the other side of the ledger were the Niagara River Lions. They too had been hot of late, going 7-1 to close out the season including a pair of victories over Hamilton to secure the first-round bye.

The River Lions started out hot, led by the surprising return of Javin Delaurier and Tyree White. Both players just finished up playing in the Summer League, and hustled back when they heard Niagara was still in title contention.

Despite the River Lions holding a 10-point lead after the first, the rest of the game was a back-and-forth affair that saw the Bandits slowly but surely claw their way back into it. Both teams were able to show off their depth of talent, as the Bandits had 4 players with double-digit scoring totals to the Niagara’s 5.

Delaurier finished the game with a 20-point, 10-rebound double-double. U SPORTS Player of the Year Lloyd Pandi had 14 points with 4 rebounds and assists, while team captain Daniel Waldin-Mullings had 17 points.

For the Bandits, captain Kenny Manigault led the team as he had all season. He scored 18 points to go along with 7 assists, while Alex Campbell showed off his incredible shooting skills, notching 19 points while hitting 5-of-10 from deep. Shaq Keith continued his excellent play in the post season, coming off the bench and showing everyone why he was a Sixth Man of the year nominee with 11 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists.

However, the moment of the game belonged to Phil Scrubb. With Fraser Valley leading 82-81 in Elam time with the target score of 84, it looked like they were on their way to the upset. But Scrubb gained possession of the ball, found himself open from way outside, patiently outwaited the defenders and banged home a game-winner for the ages. He ended the game with 16 points, 5 rebounds, 7 assists, and a place in CEBL highlight reels for the rest of time.

BlackJacks vs Stingers

We moved on to the second semi-final game of the evening, which saw the underdog Ottawa BlackJacks face the hometown favourite Edmonton Stingers.

Although they finished the year with a terrible 4-10 record, the BlackJacks earned their place in Edmonton by patching together a team from nothing to defeat the heavily favoured Hamilton Honey Badgers in the quarterfinals. Fortunately for them, the rest of the team would pass all the COVID protocols and would suit up for this game.

The Stingers were guaranteed a spot in the semi-finals before the season even started thanks to their role as hosts for the playoff bubble. However, they proved the CEBL right in granting them the privilege, as they finished the year with a near perfect 13-1 record. The team responsible for that one loss? The Ottawa BlackJacks. The story wrote itself.  

The BlackJacks had their full roster available to them after having to go shorthanded in their quarter-finals matchup against the Hamilton Honey Badgers. Being able to add Chad Posthumus to their regular lineup led Ottawa to go extra-big with their starting unit, having the newest team member start at center next to Nick Ward at power forward. The team had success inside in the previous two meeting against Edmonton and were obviously hoping to double down with two big men.

The teams traded blows early on in the opening quarter, but the BlackJacks would begin forcing the ball inside were the Stingers were waiting to force turnovers. Points in transition allowed Edmonton to start building up a lead, and some poor defense on the Ottawa side only made things worse.

Marlon Johnson got hot early, and three-time league MVP Xavier Moon was more than happy to take a seat in the passenger seat while his teammate took over. After an up-and-down season, Johnson saved his best for the playoffs, scoring 18 points to go with 5 rebounds. Sixth Man of the Year Adika Peter-Mcneilly also found his grove early and would also finish with 18 points, chipping in with 4 rebounds and 6 assists to go with 3 steals.

As the game went on, the BlackJacks were able to make the proper adjustments to claw back into the game. They would start running the offense through Kadre Gray, and he led the way for the team in the second half both with his shooting and ability to set up teammates. He scored 14 points and added 9 assists. Ward and Posthumus, the recipients of his passes, ended up with 17 and 14 points, respectively.

Ottawa would finish the third quarter in the lead, but like he had done all season, Moon took over the game when his team needed him the most. He put his team on his back and brought them back into the lead, 85-84, going into Elam time. The BlackJacks would once again turn to Gray to lead the team, but by that point the Stingers had figured out his game. They forced him into taking bad shots and killed the BlackJacks in transition again. Another Gray turnover – his sixth of the game – would give Peter-Mcneilly an open lane to the basket to end the game, 94-87.

Stingers vs River Lions

With the semifinals out of the way, it fittingly came down to the leagues top two teams to decide who would walk away with championship gold.

One game after getting Javin Delaurier and Tyree White back in their lineup, the Niagara River Lions had another surprise up their sleeves when they announced Thomas Scrubb would be available for the finals. He had left the team to start his season overseas, but visa issues meant he was able to come back for one last game.

With the crowd on their side, the hometown Stingers came out looking to assert their dominance early. Mathieu Kamba couldn’t miss early on, and the game quickly got out of hand for the River Lions. They simply had no answer for the top starting unit in the league.

Kamba would the game with 18 points. Marlon Johnson was once again in fine playoff form, scoring 14 points and adding 4 rebounds and 5 assists. Jordan Baker, and top of shutting down the front court duo of Delaurier and Scrubb for the majority of the night, had 19 points, 6 rebounds and 10 assists.

Much like we saw in the semi-final game, Moon was happy to take a backseat and settle into a playmaker role for the majority of the game. But when it came time to put a stamp on things, Edmonton knew exactly who to get the ball to. Moon would go of late again, scoring 28 points, 4 rebounds and 10 assists – including scoring 8 straight in Elam time before setting up the game winner – on the way to his second consecutive CEBL Finals MVP award.

On the Niagara side, the Scrubb brothers led the way, with Phil scoring 17 points while Tommy had 15. Delaurier would also chip in with 13 points.

Normally, I would try to make the finals sound more interesting, but there was no doubt about this game seemingly from the starting tip off. It was all one-way traffic from whistle to whistle, as the Edmonton Stingers defended their title with a 101-65 drubbing.

While it may not have been the finale the CEBL was hoping for, at least the hometown fans got something to cheer for and the stingers left no doubt that they were the top team in the league. Overall, it was a great year for Canadian basketball and one the league will hope to build upon. Hopefully 2022 will bring with it an uninterrupted season and the CEBL can show the country what they’re all about.

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