TEAM Solent Kestrels brought the curtain down on another historic season, as they retained their NBL Division Playoff crown in style with a 93-62 victory over Hemel Storm.

The win in Manchester sees Kestrels complete the clean sweep of silverware for the 2020-21 season, taking the L Lynch Trophy back in March, the league title in April and now the playoff crown, writes Jack O'Keeffe.

Hemel got going right from the opening tip as Greg Poleon soared for the two-handed dunk, however Orlan Jackman replied with five straight of his own to open the Kestrels account in the first minute.

TSK’s Ian Smith and Hemel’s Mike Williams would trade scores in the ensuing possessions as both sides were getting a feel for one another’s strategies. A 10-0 run for the Kestrels gave them their first substantial lead of the ball game at 20-9, as Andre Arissol found his touch from beyond the three-point line, sparking a coach Dru Spinks timeout. Kestrels would increase their lead to 15 post-timeout, but Poleon would score ahead of the first-quarter buzzer to trim the gap to 12, 28-16 TSK.

A quick 4-0 run at the beginning of the second quarter for Hemel trimmed the deficit to just eight points but Jackman and Smith would string together seven unanswered points, to restore a double-digit lead 35-20. Storm would regroup though and they set about cutting the gap once again using a 7-2 run this time, capped off by a Tayo Oyefusi three-pointer that triggered a coach Matt Guymon timeout, 37-27. Kestrels gave the response he was looking for out of the timeout as the continued to find good looks against Hemel’s changing zone defences. Poleon did cut the gap once again to eight points with a little over two minutes left in the half, however Travis Charles and Smith ensured TSK held a 48-36 lead at the interval.

Kestrels started the third quarter in trademark fashion as they raced out to a 9-0 run behind Jackman and Brendan Okoronkwo respectively to push the lead to 21. Poleon stopped the dough for his side as he made a tough pull up jump shot but Jackman continued his hot streak stroking another triple, TSK 60-38. Luke Busumbru came off the bench for TSK and shook off his first-half foul trouble to get going in transition and when Arissol went coast-to-coast to extend the lead to 23, Storm would call for their first timeout of the half. Mike Williams responded out of the timeout only to be met on the opposite end by an Elliot Dadds three pointer and a Smith lay up to give TSK their biggest lead of the contest at 26. Hemel did rally to close the quarter though and scored five unanswered to leave the scoreline at 73-52 with 10 minutes to play.

The defensive intensity ramped up very quickly for TSK to open the final period, as they held Hemel scoreless for just over four minutes whilst pushing the lead back out to 25. Oyefusi did break the scoreless run with a long two, but Smith was in free-scoring mood to answer back with a triple. A Luke Busumbru dunk followed by a pair of Smith triples would send the Kestrels bench into a frenzy and ultimately kill this one as a contest with TSK now leading by 32 with a little under four minutes to play. Post Storm timeout the pace of the game slowed drastically as Kestrels would close in on their second NBL D1 Playoff title crown, winning 93-62.

“This was an incredible way for our group to finish the season," said Guymon.

"The focus and consistency they have shown throughout this playoff run has been second to none, which has resulted in us playing some of our best basketball of the season.

"Our defence has been a staple of our identity and our guys pride themselves on limiting key match ups, which I felt like we were able to do for large spells of the game. Whilst this was another balanced team performance with timely contributions I have to recognise Ian Smith’s MVP performance, which will go down as one of the best in D1 finals history.

"I want to thank the fans and the entire Kestrels Family for their unwavering support throughout this season and we look forward to welcoming you all back for the 2021-22 season.”

Kestrels were led by Finals MVP Smith, who was in dominant mood with 37 points, 10 rebounds, nine assists, two steals, two blocks and zero turnovers, whilst Jackman added 18 points and nine rebounds and Charles chipped in 13 points and nine rebounds. Hemel Storm’s own league MVP Poleon had 17 points, whilst former Kestrel Tayo Oyefusi had 14 and Bode Adeluola had 12.