Sports — 13 May 2017 — by Bernard Wagner
NEBL “In the Paint”

NEBL’s semifinal Game 3 – Western Ballaz seeks to exorcise ghost of the past

BELIZE CITY, Thurs. May 11, 2017–Game three of the NEBL’s best-of-three semifinal round, scheduled to be played Sunday afternoon on the island of San Pedro between the favored home-town San Pedro Tiger Sharks and the visiting Cayo Western Ballaz, is filled with intrigue, amazing storylines, and when all is said and done, should go down as one of the league’s best games of all time.

The intrigue – will the Western Ballaz finally exorcise a ghost of the past, and finally take down their ultimate nemesis – the Tiger Sharks; a team which historically has had their number, winning ten of fourteen games played between the two franchises since the inception of the NEBL; and a team which has essentially stood between them and that coveted championship, dealing them blows after blows of team disappointments? Or, will this be the year that the Western Ballaz finally cross that proverbial hump?

The storyline – Darwin “Puppy” Leslie seeks his fourth consecutive personal trip to the finals, with the hope of winning four such championships. Ironically, he won two of his previous three championships with the Tiger Sharks; and, undoubtedly, will be looking to take a bite out of the Sharks, or, better yet, bite the hands that once fed him. Another interesting storyline is the question of whether the league’s MVP, San Pedro’s George Williams’ injury will prevent him from suiting up, come Sunday afternoon. And, if he cannot go, how significant an impact will his not being on the court, have on his team’s performance? All this should play out on Sunday afternoon in prime time, and with the bland NBA playoff games currently ongoing, the NEBL should be the show on Sunday afternoon on TNC.

Getting inside the numbers though, the Sharks traditionally are tough at home; and if they have the services of George Williams, should be able to come out on top in this one. Williams totaled 20 points 5 assists in his team’s game one 82-78 victory, shooting an amazing 4 of 8 from the field, but more notably, hit 3 of 4 from long distance. He had excellent support from Raul Roches (19 pts 7 rebs) and Douglas Valley (15 pts). However, in game 2, with his absence, the Sharks noticeably struggled to find offensive rhythm. As a team, they have shot a respectable 44% from the field so far in the series, hitting on 49 of 111 shot attempts.

Their long distance game is evidently critical to their success, and this bares out, as they managed to hit 11 of 21 three-point attempts in their game 1 win; but in their game 2 loss, shot a miserable 4 of 18. In the series, they are averaging 72.5 points per game, up from their regular season output of 69.2 points per game. However, defensively they have regressed, giving up 76.5 points per game to the Ballaz. This is being led by Western Ballaz’ Darwin Leslie, who is having a simply big series, averaging 19 points per game, to go along with 5 rebounds per game, 5 steals per game and 2 assists per game, while shooting 45% from the field. What should be more worrisome, though, for the Sharks’ brain trust, is the fact that he is getting significant help from teammates, with 5 players scoring in double figures in game 1, and four in game 2. These include Gene Myvette, averaging 11 points per game in the series, Brandon Flowers 11.5 points per game, and Ray Cruz 12.5 points per game, to go along with 6 rebounds per game. The results – a team clicking on all cylinders offensively, scoring 76.5 points per game. Remarkably, the absence of Richard Troyer has not been felt so far, in light of the fact that they have been able to sustain their regular season offensive output of 72.5 points per game, while improving their defensive efficiency from 76.5 points allowed during the regular season, to now 72.5 in the playoffs.

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