DEFENDING champion Tivoli Wizards became the first finalists of the FLOW/National Basketball League following their 78-75 overtime win over Southern Conference winners Runnin Rebels in the second game of the semi-final series at the Stadium Courts on Sunday.
Tivoli's opponents in the final will be known today when Urban Knights meet St George's Slayers in Game Three of their series after the latter levelled the series, 68-48.
Last season's MVP Kemar McLeish, who missed the first game through injury, led the way for the Rebels with a game-high 27 points. However, his ankle flared up again and he was pulled midway the extra-time period.
Omar Barnes was Tivoli's topscorer with 22 points and 10 rebounds, with support from Anthony Farquharson with 13 points and 11 rebounds.
Dwayne Harris, Troy Campbell and Duken Brown contributed 10 points apiece, with Campbell and Brown taking 10 and nine rebounds, respectively. Other scorers for the Rebels were King Thompson, 12, Paron Brown, 11, and Omari Green, 10.
The Rebels led for most of the contesting, taking a 17-14 lead after the first period and led 38-31 at half-time.
Inspired by the return of McLeish, the Rebels stretched their lead to 11 at one stage in the third quarter.
However, Tivoli clawed their way back in the last quarter and pulled to within a point (68-69) with 22 seconds remaining.
Despite jumping into a 70-69 lead, the Rebels managed to draw level from the free-throw line to send the game into overtime. They remained competitive until McLeish was taken off.
Tivoli then surged ahead and took the game by three points. Coach Edward Marshall said it was obvious their opponent made adjustments, but they stuck to the game plan.
"I told my team to play basic basketball, and we did just that and pulled it off," he said, adding that they were focused on a third successive title.
Rebels' coach Pete Matthews said losing McLeish was crucial, but he believed his players could do the job.
In the other semi-final, Damion Young led the Slayers with 19 points, with support from Paul Oliphant (14) and Noel Wright (11).
Andre Murray was the only player who turned up for the Knights, scoring 19 points.
Urban Knights missed key players after captain and point-guard Fernando Young sat out after picking up a back injury in the first game. The former winners also missed the experience of Dave Blackwood, who is off the island.
Assistant coach Kevin Alexander said these absences affected them: "Young is our inspirational captain and with him out, we struggled at the point guard position," he said.
Slayers' coach Rohan Robinson said whenever they play together as a team, it is difficult for them to lose.
"This is a difficult team to coach... because everybody is good... but if we stick with our game plan I'm confident we'll get the same result in Game Three," he said.