Anyang KGC were crowned the 2023 Korean Basketball League (KBL) champions on Sunday, after beating rivals Seoul SK Knights four games to three in arguably the greatest KBL finals in KBL history. It was the first seven-game KBL finals in thirteen years, and the first ever KBL finals that was decided in overtime.
KGC vs SK has become the central rivalry in the KBL. This year’s result reversed that in last year’s finals when the Knights overcame Anyang.
KGC center Oh Se Keun claimed his third KBL Playoffs Most Valuable Player award after averaging 19.1 points in the series.
KGC’s finals win came after a historic regular season, in which the team went wire-to-wire, remaining in first place from the beginning to the end of the regular season.
How did the Finals series pan out?
Anyang KGC faced a Seoul SK Knights team that was riding a 15-game winning streak going into the Finals. SK’s last loss? Against KGC in the East Asia Super League Champions Week Championship Game in Okinawa in March.
SK Knights extended their winning streak lead in Game 1, beating KGC 77-69 after Kim Sun Hyung recorded a double-double with 22 points and 12 assists.
In Game 2, Anyang put a halt to SK’s winning streak. Former Korean international Oh Se Keun led the charge with a game-high 21 points, helping Anyang blow out the Knights 81-67.
KGC’s offensive charge and teamwork helped them take the series lead in Game 3 as the team combined for 23 assists and an 81-70 victory. Oh led the line again, recording a game-high 23 points and 9 rebounds.
The Knights adjusted their plan in Game 4 with their interior offense. SK outscored KGC 60-40 inside the paint, with their import Jameel Warney powering through with 28 points and 17 boards to beat the EASL Champions Week winners 100-91.
Seoul won Game 5 to retake the series lead 3-2 with another double-double from Warney, putting the team one game from repeating as KBL champions.
Seoul SK Knights were up by as much as 15 in the third quarter in Game 6. But Anyang came alive in the fourth, outscoring their rivals 30-10 in the quarter and winning 86-77 to take the series to a decisive Game 7.
In the do-or-die Game 7, Kim Sun Hyung tried to put SK’s disappointing Game 6 loss behind him and went into a ferocious tear, scoring a series-high 37 points. SK took a four-point lead late in the fourth, but with victory in their grasp, they could not stop Omari Spellman, who scored a massive dunk to tie the game and send the contest to overtime. Spellman continued his barrage in the extra frame, scoring a crucial and-one to give Anyang the victory, 100-97.
The turning point of the series
Down 15 in the third quarter in Game 6, SK Knights had KGC on the ropes. But after SK rested their starters, Anyang roared back with 20 unanswered points, outscoring their opponents 30-10 in the fourth quarter to take the series to a decisive Game 7.
Led by Spellman’s 34 points in the final game, Anyang won their fourth-ever KBL Championship, and their second in three seasons.
Anyang vs Seoul becomes KBL’s decisive rivalry
This is the second consecutive KBL Finals between Anyang KGC and Seoul SK Knights. Seoul won last season’s finals four games to one, and Kim Sun Hyung won the Finals MVP.
The teams again emerged as the main rivals for the championship this season, producing excellent matches several times in the regular league. They tied their regular season series, taking three games apiece.
The two teams also met in the championship game of the East Asia Super League Champions Week in early March, where KGC became the champions of the inaugural EASL Season 1 with Omari Spellman named the Pocari Sweat Most Valuable Player.
After the Knights’ loss against KGC in Champions Week, the team hit a 16-game winning streak before falling to their rivals in Game 2 of the Finals.
Clutch man Oh Se Keun takes THIRD Finals MVP
Anyang KGC center Oh Se Keun was named the 2023 KBL Finals MVP after averaging 19.1 points and 10 rebounds in the series. This is Oh’s third KBL Finals MVP award after winning it in 2012, his rookie year, and in 2017. Oh is a four-time KBL champion and also won the KBL regular season MVP in 2017.
The Korean international has represented his country since 2008, winning the gold medal in the 2014 Asian Games and the silver medal in the 2010 Asian Games. He was also a part of the bronze medal teams in the 2011 and 2017 FIBA Asia Cups.
Who were the heroes this year?
Alongside Anyang’s Oh, a couple of other players also stood out in the finals. Former NBA pro Omari Spellman averaged 18.9 points and 8.9 boards in the seven-game series. Most importantly, the EASL Champions Week MVP exploded with 34 points in Game 7, powering Anyang to the coveted trophy.
Darryl Monroe contributed to attacking SK’s dreaded 3-2 point drop zone defense, which had given KGC problems early in the series. KGC’s Asian import player Rhenz Abando also made his presence felt on defense using his athleticism to slow down SK’s offense in key moments.
Last season’s KBL Finals MVP Kim Sun Hyung repeated his efforts this year, averaging 18.3 points and 8.6 assists in the series, including a 37-point outburst in a losing effort in Game 7.
What did they say?
Oh Se Keun, 2023 KBL Finals MVP, on Anyang KGC’s historic season: “There was no one who picked us as a strong team before the season started. However, from the wire-to-wire championship, the combined championship, and the EASL championship, all the players worked really hard in their respective positions. The fact that they came to the seventh game and won the championship, it’s so valuable. I feel good and I’m grateful.”
Anyang KGC Head Coach Kim Sang Shik on his team’s Game 7 victory: “I am so thrilled. I am so grateful that the players showed their concentration until the end.
“Originally, there were no tears, but after it was over, I shed a lot of tears without realizing it. I shed a lot of tears for the first time in a long time.
“There was a crisis, but… that the players overcame it with fighting spirit and won the championship.”
Knights’ Head Coach Chun Hee Chul took responsibility for the fateful turnaround in Game 6, in the post-game press conference after the final game: “I feel so sorry for the players. I made a huge mistake in the sixth game. The players have suffered a lot and I don’t think there is anything more to say. I did my best in today’s game and I have to accept the win or loss. I am very sorry.”
What’s next for the two teams?
With Anyang KGC and Seoul SK Knights participating in the 2023 KBL Finals, both teams have qualified for EASL Season 2, which tips off this October. However, the rosters of the Korean teams could be drastically different by the time the EASL season begins.
For Anyang KGC, there will be a few players going into free agency, notably 2023 KBL Finals MVP Oh Se Keun, and Moon Seong Gon who has been named KBL Defensive Player of the Year for the past four consecutive seasons.
KGC captain and 16-year pro Yang Hee Jong has also decided to retire after this season, going out on a high after winning his fourth KBL Championship. The 38-year-old has been named KBL Defensive Best 5 six times and won KBL Defensive Player of the Year in 2014.
As for Seoul SK Knights, they have six players going into free agency, including: the 2020-21 KBL MVP Choi Jun Yong and key rotation players such as Choi Won Hyuk and Choi Seong Won.