The Perth Wildcats have drawn first blood in the NBL Grand Final series with a Bryce Cotton-inspired 88-86 win over the Sydney Kings at Qudos Bank Arena on Sunday
Shooting for back-to-back championships and the club’s 10th overall – more than double the next best in NBL history – the Wildcats trailed for most of the first half but produced down the stretch in a dramatic final term to go 1-0 up in the best-of-five series.
The 27-year-old Cotton went into the game averaging 33 points against the Kings this season and the league MVP continued to haunt the home side with 32 points, including 18 in the first half alone. He also pulled in six rebounds and added four assists in another man-of-the-match performance.
Mr Consistency Nick Kay provided valuable assistance with 14 points, six rebounds and three assists, and centre Miles Plumlee added 10 points and seven boards in a tantalising battle with Andrew Bogut.
Any thoughts of Bogut (18 points, 12 rebounds, three assists) being a spent force in the Grand Final series were dispelled despite the Kings’ defeat. He was his team’s best player with 18 points, 12 rebounds and three assists.
Despite struggling largely through physical ailments in the second half of the season, the 35-year-old NBA championship winner and No. 1 draft pick registered his first double-double since Round 14.
Kings skipper Kevin Lisch returned to top form too after missing most of #NBL20 through an ankle complaint with 17 points, while Shaun Bruce and Jae’Sean Tate added 11 each and Xavier Cooks grabbed 11 boards.
A frantic start to the match was highlighted by the skill of the MVPs – this season’s winner Cotton, who had 10 points for the quarter, and Bogut, who was a major presence in the middle with seven points.
Back-to-back threes from Bruce kicked Sydney out to the biggest lead of the quarter (22-15) but the Wildcats clawed their way back to trail 26-24 at the first break.
Power forward Jae’Sean Tate, with nine first-quarter points, nailed a three with his first touch and then stole the ball from Kay for the jam for a typically explosive start.
Sydney threatened to break the game open at 41-32 after back-to-back threes from Didi Louzada and Daniel Kickert. That was as good as it got for Sydney in the first half as a Cotton-inspired Perth went on a 16-4 run to surge to a 52-49 half-time lead.
That gave Cotton 18 first-half points while Casper Ware was scoreless with 0/5 for Sydney. But Lisch had stepped up with 12 points and three triples.
The Kings regained control and a Kickert triple blew the lead out to 11 late in the term before Clint Steindl and White hit threes of their own to trim the margin to 73-68 heading into the final quarter.
The Wildcats refused to go away and whittled away at the margin until consecutive threes from Cotton put Perth in front 81-79.
A rare Damian Martin triple and a Cotton jumper extended Perth’s advantage to 86-81 with less than three minutes on the clock.
But Sydney closed the gap to two with 24 seconds left when Ware nailed the first of a pair of free throws. When he missed his second attempt, Tate grabbed the rebound only for Bruce to miss a corner three.
White was then fouled with 11 seconds on the clock but missed both free throws.
Ware then had a chance to win it at the death but his shot from deep was off the mark.
Perth is now in the box seat with two of the next three games at home at RAC Arena, where the Kings are 0-2 this season. The teams resume battle for Game 2 on Friday night in Perth.
NBL GRAND FINAL SERIES GAME 1
SYDNEY KINGS 86 (Bogut 18, Lisch 17, Tate 11, Bruce 11)
PERTH WILDCATS 88 (Cotton 32, Kay 14, Plumlee 10)
Perth leads best-of-five series 1-0