Two years in a row, the International Basketball League championship has eluded the Vancouver Volcanoes.
On Saturday evening, the Volcanoes took the first step toward redemption as they defeated the Portland Chinooks 156-148 at Clark College in the first day of the IBL playoffs.
The Volcanoes earned a chance to play for the IBL championship for the fourth straight season. They will tipoff at 5 p.m. Sunday at Clark College against the two-time defending IBL champion Bellingham Slam, who’ve beaten the Volcanoes the last two seasons.
Bellingham defeated Seattle 136-105 in the second semifinal on Saturday.
Newly named 2014 IBL MVP Andre Murray scored 43 points, and had six assists and six rebounds to help propel the Volcanoes to victory.
Vancouver also had its way on the interior with a combined 48 points by big men Brian Morris and Calvin Hampton.
“He just makes shots. He makes big shots at big times,” said Volcanoes head coach, and 2014 IBL Coach of The Year Joe Navarro.
“He’s really the gravy of our offense so to speak. Our offense is inside with Brian and Calvin and then ‘Dre gets his in the perimeter and in transition. When our offense is really clicking on the inside, he gets open.
“We like to go inside out and develop our inside game because we know we are going to get 35 from Andre.”
Things didn’t start out completely swimmingly for the Volcanoes as the Chinooks took an early lead in the first quarter but Vancouver quickly turned things around, thanks to their defense.
The Chinooks beat the Volcanoes earlier this week on Tuesday on their home court but the Volcanoes already had their minds set on the playoffs and rested Murray, the number one player on the IBL watchlist.
With Murray in the fold and their three-point shot by their side, the Volcanoes were able to do more or less what they wanted on the offensive end.
Navarro said that saved them when Portland got loose offensively, led by 41 points from Kevin Ford and 38 points from Antone Jarrell.
Then Portland began to press and deny Vancouver’s ball-handlers — Murray and Dominique Watson — from even touching the ball.
It worked momentarily and the Chinooks made one final push in the final three minutes but the Volcanoes made enough key baskets to keep Portland at arm’s length.
After the game, Murray was officially awarded the second MVP trophy of his IBL career.
“It’s humbling. Anytime you win the Most Valuable Player in any sport, you’ve got to thank the people who supported you and be happy for the work you put in,” Murray said. “It feels good to win my second one, I can’t lie.”
For Navarro, an exhale, before ramping up for the title game on Sunday.
“I’m going to enjoy this one until about midnight and start the scout out 12:30. It will be a late night for me,” he said.
Watson provided 23 points off the bench for Vancouver and the Volcanoes managed to win the game despite Portland making four more three-pointers and being out rebounded.
Now, the championship awaits.
“I feel like we all want it pretty bad,” Murray said. “Nobody would make that effort or make that drive and make that commitment and not want to win a championship. That would be pointless if we don’t win. That’s the mindset our team and I have.”