By Siddarth Sharma, UBA Columnist
This is what it has all been leading up to. After a season full of dynamic highlights and heroic performances, two teams remain standing in UBA Pro Basketball League Season 4. Mumbai Challengers emerged as the North Division champions after scorching opponents for a 5-1 record in league stages and besting Punjab Steelers in semifinals. They will face Bengaluru Beast, whose path to the finals seemed anything but preordained. Having started with a 0-3 record, Bengaluru seemed dead in the water until their champions rose to the challenge. They won their next three games in the league stages and defeated Hyderabad Sky in the South Division play-in game to punch a ticket to the semifinals, where they bested table toppers Pune Peshwas in a thrilling encounter for the ages to book a berth in the finals.
Here's what to look for when the ball tips off:
Mumbai's explosive offense meets Bengaluru's smothering shot swatter
Kevin Garnett himself would howl like a timber-wolf in appreciation of Palpreet Brar's insatiable appetite for rejecting shots. He treats opposition's forays in the paint as a personal affront and explodes upwards to get his hands on shot attempts as if his life depends on it. While he may commit the occasional goaltend, the storm of chaos he unleashes in the paint with his furious challenges goes a long way towards quelling their penetration.
Palpreet had six blocks in the second game of semifinal series against Pune Peshwas in a game they won by five points. There's no track of how many shots he altered and deterred by his mere presence.
Mumbai's four horsemen on prowl
There are few more daunting tasks in UBA than handling Mumbai Challengers' firepower in the open court. The sight of Scales, Scroggins and Gill streaking downcourt with Jagdeep trailing reminds one of Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse bearing down on the plains. While their ability to finish has been vividly prominent, the scarier part is their ability to start breaks.
While Mumbai have only one player who's averaging more than one block per game (Jeevanathan), they have three defensive stalwarts who choke the opponents with their crafty hands. Scales averages 3 steals per game, Scroggins and Gill average 2.5 and Jagdeep 1 spg. This is a team which can barrel downcourt in a hurry after a made bucket, how quickly do you think they'll get to the rim off a turnover?
Mr. Triple double doing it all
Vishesh could put up triple doubles in his sleep. He's a lock to attempt ten free throws in any contest owing to his crafty drives to the rim, and he has strength to convert even while being fouled hard so the defense really has few recourse against him. While he's a lethal scorer from anywhere on the floor , it's his uncanny court vision and unselfishness which makes stopping him such a daunting task .
Vishesh is leading both teams in points (42.7 ppg) and assists (10.67), and he's capable of turning the tide of a contest all by himself. He's also averaging over 6 rebounds per game, enabling him to barrel downcourt in a hurry.
Bengaluru's Big 3 meets Mumbai's Big 4
While Vishesh can drop 40 and be responsible for another 20 with his 10 assists per game, he's ably supported by sharpshooting Chris Solomon. Splash Solomon is shooting 52% from downtown in the postseason and he's a proven sniper who can turn a ten point deficit into a five point lead in a matter of minutes. Overlooking Palpreet seems criminal as he showed with his five made threes against Pune en route to 27 points. He's also leading the playoffs in blocks (2.67).
They come up against the Big 4 of Mumbai Challengers who have been annihilating opponents with their blistering pace. Jimmy Scroggins (37.5 ppg), Alex Scales (34.5 ppg) and Inderbir Gill (23 ppg) have simply dominated on both ends. Inderbir has established himself as a premier playmaker who can explode for 30 points on a whim. Scroggins has basically set up a second home at the free throw line with his aggressive drives and Jagdeep has been the anchor on both ends with his steady play. Let's not forget his game winner against Haryana Gold in the league stages, where he proved himself yet again to be a reliable option. There really is no good way to stop them all, one can only hope to limit the damage they do. They can all connect from downtown, especially former NBA player Scales. And they get to the rim as if there were a red carpet rolled out for them. Although they'll find a dragon at the end of their drives vs Bengaluru in Palpreet, their midrange game cannot be overlooked either.
While the big name players get the lion's share of attention, the games are won by the entire team playing as one. Indian team veteran Pratham Singh had 12 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists to help eliminate Pune in the second game of the semifinals series. Bengaluru has a former steals leader in Visu Palani who impressed with 7 rebounds and 3 assists in their last game. Kaif Zia has shown the ability of steeping up to whatever challenge opponents throw at him as he proved by going toe to toe against big man Amritpal when Palpreet fouled out. Loveneet's momentum changing heady plays also served Bengaluru well as the speedy guard inspired runs with his blazing quickness.
Bengaluru have a knack of making the right play at the right time. Two of their games saw last minute baskets by players who had barely seen any action in the game. In the play-in game against Hyderabad, it was Raghuram who stepped up off an out of bounds play. Against Pune, Rajan Sharma's crafty drives to the rim helped Bengaluru pull away for the win.
For Mumbai, don't forget about Indian national team veteran Prasanna Venkatesh, who's been quietly contributing on both ends of the floor. He posted 10 points and 8 rebounds in their last game. Karanpal Singh also came off the bench for 9 points and 5 rebounds in just under 11 minutes of action. Their big four can explode for 100 points, but they may need big man Jeevanathan to step up and contend against Palpreet's size and Vishesh's drives.
There are multiple ways this match up can progress. Both teams have shown remarkable resilience in the face of pressure by mounting successful comebacks and making a habit of winning. No lead is safe for either team as the stars have put in gutsy performances on a nightly basis to snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. And the role players have shown an ability to step up when called upon as well.
The only thing we can be sure of is being treated to an incredibly hard fought contest with no quarter given from either team.