The Magic have pulled the ultimate Houdini act, overcoming the Northern Mystics in overtime to book their third transtasman league grand final appearance.
Having walked the tightrope for most of the season after their 0-4 start, the Waikato-Bay of Plenty side's 10-game winning streak looked to have come to an end in last night's preliminary final in Auckland, with the Mystics in control heading down the final stretch.
Leading 44-43 with 30 seconds on the clock and in possession of the ball, all the Mystics had to do was hold on to the ball to book a meeting with the Melbourne Vixens next week.
But a Leana de Bruin steal gave the Magic one last roll of the dice, with Irene van Dyk converting the turnover at the other end of the court to send the match into overtime.
After the demoralising end to regular time, the Mystics didn't appear to have the heart to lift themselves in the two seven-minute overtime periods and the Magic raced away with a 57-48 win.
The loss was a cruel end to the career of Mystics stalwart Temepara George, who was at her energetic best in her final match in front of her home crowd, dictating the pace at the attack end.
But she will be left ruing a late mistake which gave the Magic possession in the dying seconds and the opportunity to send the match in to extra time.
The two sides met at the identical crunch point last season, with the Mystics edging the Magic by one goal. This time they entered the preliminary final in the reverse situation. The Mystics finished the regular season ranked higher, but it was the Magic that had the form, heading in to the match on the back of 10 straight wins, including last week's tense one-goal win over the Adelaide Thunderbirds in the minor semifinal.
The home side started with energy on defence, Charlotte Kight coming up with an intercept inside the opening 15 seconds to give the Mystics the first say of the match.
The Magic, who have impressed with their patience and discipline, made some uncharacteristic early errors on attack with the Mystics doing a good job of putting pressure on chief ball distributor, Laura Langman.
But the Mystics were unable to make the most of all their early possession, with some defensive brilliance at the other end of the court from the Magic keeping the two sides on level pegging.
Locked up at 12-all at the first break, the Magic broke the stalemate early in the second period, opening out an 18-14 lead after a couple of basic errors from the homeside.
A tactical injury break from the Mystics had an immediate impact, with the Auckland side responding to a gee-up from coach Debbie Fuller by scoring the next three goals.
Anna Harrison lead the charge for the Mystics, picking up two blocked shots for the period and proving a general menace to the Magic shooters, but the visitors just managed to get their noses in front before the break at 24-23.
The Mystics showed a lot more variation on attack in the third period, and as a result Cathrine Latu came in to the match, finding more space under the goal as the midcourters used ball speed to split the defenders.
After scoring just seven goals in the first half, Latu shot 8 from 8 in the third quarter, to put her side in front heading in to the final turn.
Sensing they had the Magic on the ropes, the Mystics kept the pressure on early in the fourth, opening up a four-goal buffer.
But as they have done all season, the Magic kept fighting to the end.By Dana Johannsen Email Dana