Jerome Randle of the Adelaide 36ers.
Jerome Randle of the Adelaide 36ers. DAN PELED

Adelaide strikes first blow in bid to reach grand final

ADELAIDE is one win from returning to the NBL grand finals after taking Illawarra's best shot in the opening match of their best-of-three semi final series.

Newly crowned league MVP Jerome Randle led the 36ers with an equal game-high 26 points, ably supported by Nathan Sobey with 16, eight rebounds and four assists, and Daniel Johnson with 16 and seven rebounds.

Randle's gamble of publicly claiming Illawarra was a "dirty team" appeared to pay as Rhys Martin, Marvelle Harris and Tim Coenraad all fouled out, with AJ Ogilvy and Mitch Norton finishing the match on four fouls as the Sixers ran up a 93-78 victory.

Adelaide's defensive work at key times and shot-blocking presence troubled the Hawks, who shot at 36%.

"I thought we did a great job of taking away their easy catches," 36ers coach Joey Wright said.

"We got a good hand on it and made them take tough shots for the most part."

Eric Jacobsen and Matt Hodgson were huge keyway forces but Terrance Ferguson was the surprise packet, his length troubling Rotnei Clarke when the Hawks import threatened to get going in the third period.

"Terrance was fantastic. That was one of his best games for the year," Wright said.

"He'll be a defender at the next level. When he plays with that amount of intensity, he's at another level."

The Hawks controlled the opening quarter, leading by as many as nine on a Coenraad three-point play before Anthony Drmic's injection sparked the home team.

Drmic, Hodgson and Johnson spent the early part of the week dealing with a virus that has gone through the team, but stood up when it mattered.

And Randle brought the crowd of 5056 people around Brett Maher Court to its feet when he returned in the last quarter after leaving a few minutes earlier with cramp.

Drmic's triple to close the first period brought the 36ers to within a long-range missile at 27-24 and Sobey's three to start the second quarter tied it up.

Jacobsen was terrorising the defensive keyway, rejecting Ogilvy and making Hawks' drivers adjust their shots as Adelaide ran out from 29-29 with a 8-0 run.

Coenraad was on fire, keeping Illawarra in touch until Sobey and Ferguson ignited the crowd.

Sobey blocked Nick Kay's dunk attempt to bring the crowd to full roar.

Mitch Creek made a wicked drive to the basket but while the ball bounced on the ring, Ferguson flew from nowhere for a two-handed putback dunk.

Sobey tipped a defensive rebound to release Randle on the break and suddenly the Sixers were 10 ahead.

From there, Illawarra was chasing for the duration, the game igniting a couple of times with physical clashes but nothing that should keep anyone out of Sunday's game two in Wollongong.