City of Birmingham Rockets’ Men’s First Team were crowned NBL Division 2 National Champions after beating St Helens Saints 80-72 in the playoff final at the National Basketball Performance Centre in Manchester on Saturday evening.
Rockets went into the game full of confidence after comfortably dispatching local rivals Worcester Wolves in the semi-finals, with our 21-1 record seeing the team enter the playoffs as the number one seed.
A near perfect regular season campaign had been followed by a ruthless efficiency in the playoffs, with Coach Gayle and the team unwavering in their pursuit of the national champion title.
The third seeded St Helens Saints stood between the team and history, but the Saints were motivated after losing both of our regular season meetings – the latter of which saw Rockets overturn a 21-point deficit in a stunning comeback back in January.
Both sides started the final cautiously with St Helens having the better of the early exchanges – connecting with a couple of early three pointers as they looked to impose themselves on proceedings early on.
Rockets grew into the game as the quarter progressed, with a midrange Martyn Gayle jump shot and a signature Ron Oberia dunk soon silencing the Saints crowd.
Martyn Gayle was on fine offensive form the first quarter, putting up nine points in the period to prevent the Saints establishing a strong early advantage.
The first quarter ended with Rockets trailing by one, with the scores at 23-22 in favour of Saints.
St Helens continued their strong start in the second, pulling away once again and leaving Rockets with work to do to find a way back into the contest.
Reiss Faure-Daley and Ron Oberia hit consecutive three-point shots to close the gap with Rockets relentless in their quest to narrow the deficit.
The pendulum swung back and forth as both sides traded blows to try and gain the upper hand.
Back-to-back layups from Kayne King put Rockets ahead for the first time in the game as we led 41-40.
St Helens responded with a three then split a pair of free throws before Karl Teesdale hit a huge three to tie the contest and lift the packed Rockets contingent to their feet as we went into half time.
A tight half saw the scores level at 44 each, but the impetus from the end of the second carried through to the third as Rockets looked to finally gain control of proceedings.
Reiss Faure-Daley led the Rockets at the start of the third on both ends of the court with a pair of baskets and a block crucial in swinging the momentum back in our favour.
Luke Okosieme showed his dominance on both ends of the floor throughout the final, putting up 11 points, 9 rebounds and 5 blocks in another impressive performance.
Rockets were controlling the ball well and limiting Saints to tough shots – with just two field goals in the final five minutes of the third putting Rockets in control as we entered the championship quarter with a 63-58 lead.
The fourth quarter started with Luke Okosieme and Martyn Gayle causing St Helens Saints problems.
As Saints started to tire, Rockets continued to turn the screw with quick ball movement and clinical shooting from the field.
St Helens were determined to leave it all out on the floor but just couldn’t handle the continued intensity of Rockets’ attacks and that, coupled with another scoring drought midway through the quarter, would ultimately seal their fate.
The game ended 80-72, with Rockets winning the NBL Division 2 playoffs in a thrilling final against the side that pushed us all the way in the regular season.
Emotions ran high as the final buzzer sounded, with finals MVP Martyn Gayle amongst those visibly taken aback by the enormity of this season’s achievements.
It’s been a historic season for our men’s team with a near perfect 21-1 record and an enthralling playoff run – the 2022/23 season will be one to remember for basketball fans across the city.
Stay tuned to our channels as we will be releasing season ticket details later this week – Birmingham basketball is back, make sure you’re there with us!