The 2023 Korean Basketball League playoffs has been nothing short of spectacular. With the quarterfinals coming to an end, it is time for the semifinals. First seed and EASL Champions Week champions Anyang KGC will take on fifth seed Goyang Carrot Jumpers, while second seed Changwon LG Sakers will battle third seed, defending KBL champions and EASL Champions Week runners-up Seoul SK Knights. Winners of this round will book their ticket to EASL Season 2.
Anyang KGC has not played a game in the KBL playoffs thus far after being crowned the KBL regular season champions. The team looks to build from their unbelievable regular season, as they were just the third team in KBL history to achieve a wire-to-wire finish, where they remained first from beginning to end the entire season. Anyang’s dominance carried overseas, winning EASL Champions Week in March, demolishing the likes of Taipei Fubon Braves of the P.LEAGUE+ in Taiwan and San Miguel Beermen of the Philippine Basketball League (PBL) before downing their KBL rivals, Seoul SK Knights in the championship game to claim the inaugural EASL Champions Week championship. KGC’s season has been led by former NBA big man, Omari Spellman, who won the Pocari Sweat EASL Champions Week Most Valuable Player while also leading the team averaging 19.9 points and 10 rebounds in 50 KBL games this season. As the regular season champions, Anyang earned a first-round bye, getting a free pass into the semifinals.
In last season’s KBL playoffs, KGC were ousted by SK Knights in the finals, watching Seoul SK Knights lift the coveted trophy before their eyes. Anyang KGC’s veteran Oh Se Keun still remembers that loss. “I hope [Seoul] SK will come up. I have to get revenge from last season's playoff finals, and I think I can play well,” Oh said. “This time, [Byeon] Jun Hyung wants to beat [Kim] Sun Hyung. But the semifinal playoffs come before the championship match, so I will focus the semifinals first.”
Before KGC enters the finals however, they would have to go through Goyang Carrot Jumpers first. The Jumpers are coming off a tightly contested battle against Ulsan Hyundai Mobis Phoebus, with a decisive 77-71 winner-moves-on Game 5 victory to take the quarterfinal series 3-2. They were at one point down two games to one before rallying off two straight wins to take the series.
Jumpers head coach Kim Seung Gi gave credit to his players after the decisive win. "Today was really difficult. I thought it would be difficult, but the players were very determined. They tried hard to win. I couldn't give up. I thought it was a bit difficult in the end, but we overcame it well and went up. If it wasn't for the growth of all the players, we wouldn't have been able to come this far," Kim commented.
Goyang has been led by balanced scoring from their team, as three players have averaged more than 15 points this season. Former NBA G League pro Dedric Lawson has been leading the team with 19.3 points per game this season while also averaging a team-leading 9.7 boards in 55 games.
“It goes without saying Dedric Lawson is showing great performance compared to previous games. He is one of the best foreign players in KBL,” Coach Kim said of his import star. “I always say, he is not a player who will receive an MIP (Most Improved Player), but a player who will receive an MVP (Most Valuable Player). He should have been given the MVP this year, but he slumped a little. He came back and he is a great talent.”
On the other side of the bracket, we see the league’s number one defense Changwon LG Sakers take on EASL Champions Week runners-up Seoul SK Knights. Changwon has limited their opposition to just 76.9 points per game all season, branding them as the best defense in the league. They were able to secure a first-round bye after a fierce finish in the regular season, fending off SK Knights by obtaining a better point difference, a mere 14 points. Now, they meet in the semifinals. The LG Sakers will be looking for their first-ever KBL championship in their 29-year history.
LG Sakers’ sixth-ranked offense has been led by Egyptian import Assem Marei. However, they will be missing their star center and league-leading rebounder for the rest of the playoffs, as the big man is currently nursing a calf injury. Changwon desperately looked for other options and acted quickly by signing former NBA pro Reggie Perry, who most recently played for the Toronto Raptors and Detroit Pistons G League teams this past season, averaging 20.7 points in 39 games.
LG head coach Cho Sang Hyun watched and evaluated Perry directly on the field and was impressed with what he saw. “This is a player I saw in the summe league last year. He was evaluated as a player with decent skills in other clubs,” Cho praised the former NBA second round draft pick.
10-year NBA veteran and now LG Sakers teammate Dante Cunningham shared his experiences playing in the KBL for the first time. “There will be no problem adapting to the team. I explained the style of our players to Perry. However, league adaptation can be different for players. Even if I can tell you a little bit, you still need to adapt and learn.”
The number one defense has a tough task at hand, as they are facing KBL’s number one offense in Seoul SK Knights. After missing out on the first-round bye, the defending KBL champions took on sixth seed Jeonju KCC Egis in the quarterfinals. It looked easy for the Knights, as they swept KCC three games to none, outscoring their opponents by 22 points in the series. KCC tried to make a game out of it in Game 3, leading by as much as 16 at one point during the game, but SK Knights’ formidable offense was too great. Led by former NBA forward Jameel Warney’s game-high 30 points, Seoul booked their ticket to the semifinals with a 77-72 victory.
Knights head coach Jeon Hee Chul was proud of his team’s efforts in the quarterfinals. “I think it's because there are many players with a lot of experience in big matches, and I think they've matured a lot. I think we finished the series on a high,” Jeon said after his team’s victory against KCC. “After finishing today, I think I will be able to recover my physical strength because I can rest for two days and prepare for the semifinals. It was a victory that helped a lot.”
Seoul SK Knights’ attack has been led by their two star players. Kim Sun Hyung was this season’s KBL Most Valuable Player after averaging 16.2 points and league-leading seven assists this season. Warney won this season’s Best Import, leading the league in scoring, recording 24.2 points per game this season.
Warney believes his team can’t be too complacent going ahead of their matchup against Changwon. “Because we start with two away games, we have to be careful with the series. I think we need to win at least one of the first two games to lead the series in the direction we want,” Warney said. “We've been showing good form since EASL (Champions Week), but we have to play that kind of game in the semifinals as well. Both me and Kim Sun Hyung are MVPs, so we have to play that role.”
The KBL semifinals tip off today, with the EASL Champions Week winners Anyang KGC hosting the Goyang Carrot Jumpers. EASL Champions Week runners-up Seoul SK Knights look to defend their KBL title with a visit to Changwon LG Sakers. Winners move on to the final and claim a berth at EASL Season 2. Who will move on, and who will go home?