The Scarborough Shooting Stars will be playing for the Canadian Elite Basketball League championship on Sunday after edging the top-ranked Niagara River Lions 74-71 in the Eastern Conference final on Friday at Langley Events Centre.
Their opponent will be the Calgary Surge who outlasted the host Vancouver Bandits 77-75 in a Western Conference final thriller, also at Langley Events Centre.
All-star point guard Cat Barber led the Shooting Stars with 15 points, while Gedi Juozapaitis chipped in with 13 and Isiaha Mike netted 12. Kalif Young had 11 points and 11 rebounds.
Jahvon Henry-Blair scored 20 points for the River Lions, while Edward Ekiyor added 15. Tj Lall pulled in eight rebounds.
The River Lions led 20-14 after the first quarter, but the Shooting Stars took a 35-32 lead into the half.
The Shooting Stars also dominated the paint, outscoring the River Lions 44-16 and snagging 20 offensive rebounds.
“It’s effort. Those are all effort plays. Those are plays that show how much the team wants to win,” Scarborough head coach Chris Exilus said.
“Plays that are not always on the stat sheet … what you saw was a resilient group that played together. On this team, nobody cares who makes the play.”
Young was also a dominant force in the paint for Scarborough. He secured a double-double with 11 points, 11 rebounds, four steals and one block.
“I just think we’ve really bought into our system,” Young said. “You don’t win in those big moments and win championships without locking down on defence and focusing in on players.
"I think our biggest thing was focusing on a really good player in Khalil Ahmad today.”
Ahmad was named 2023 CEBL Clutch Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year and received an All-CEBL First Team nod on Wednesday. However, he was held to eight points on 2-for-8 shooting from the field on Friday.
“I don't think (Ahmad) was aggressive enough and I think there was a little bit of time where he got frustrated with the wrong things and how physical they were being,” Niagara head coach Victor Raso said.
The Shooting Stars, who lost last year's championship final to the Hamilton Honey Badgers, beat the now-Brampton Honey Badgers 98-74 in this year's play-in game, then knocked off the Ottawa BlackJacks 77-72 in Ottawa.
Stefan Smith sunk a three to lift the favoured Surge to a 77-75 win over the Bandits, who narrowly missed advancing to the final in their home arena.
Smith finished the game with 25 points and eight rebounds, while Sean Miller-Moore and Mason Bourcier each scored 15.
Nick Ward led the Bandits' offence with 21 points, while Alex Campbell chipped in with 18.
The Bandits led 53-51 going into the final quarter and the lead flipped several times down the stretch.
Sunday's final will tip off at 7 p.m. ET.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 11, 2023.