The demise of the Perth Wildcats was greatly exaggerated with the league’s benchmark back to some imposing form and to the top of the NBL with a dominant 88-68 victory over the Sydney Kings on Sunday.
The start of Round 14 saw the Wildcats lose on the road to Adelaide to leave them in danger of seeing their remarkable playoff streak come to an end having lost seven of the past eight games.
But the response from the ‘Cats has been emphatic starting with a narrow home win over Melbourne United before a thrashing of the 36ers on Friday night in Perth. Now they have shown what they can do on the road.
The Kings were still top of the table after winning in Brisbane on Friday night coming into the contest and had won their past four games against the Wildcats, but it was a Perth outfit ready to make a statement.
Buoyed by beating Adelaide by 19 points on Friday, and despite losing point guard Mitch Norton to a calf injury that could end his season, the Wildcats got going early and never let up on the Kings.
The ‘Cats took charge in the second quarter to go into half-time leading 47-31 and went on to lead by as much as 31 points in the second half before winning by 20 and moving to top spot on the ladder at 15-9.
The Kings drop to third with the defeat at 14-9.
Clint Steindl continued to show he could be a difference-maker in the home stretch for the Wildcats top-scoring again with 18 points and three assists while nailing 6/10 from long-range. He also had 19 points on Friday.
Nick Kay was unstoppable in the four spot showing up Kings pair David Wear and Daniel Kickert, and finishing with 16 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists.
Bryce Cotton scored 16 points too for Perth while Damian Martin continued his season-best form with the captain producing 13 points and four rebounds on top of his usual standout defence and hustle.
Jesse Wagstaff added 11 points with Angus Brandt having nine points, six rebounds, three assists and two blocks in his battle with Andrew Bogut.
Perth held the Kings to just 37 per cent shooting from the field while shooting the rock at 49 per cent, and had 22 assists on 32 made field goals in a pointer to some impressive offensive execution.
It was the Perth style of basketball we’ve come to expect from the eight-time champions, and coach Trevor Gleeson was thrilled with his team’s return to form.
“I can’t remember what game it was, but we didn’t have each other’s back and that was my biggest concern,” said Gleeson.
“We’d been giving up some really big scores and getting away from what we do defensively. But to their credit, the guys have been working really hard, and the defence was outstanding.
“To hold the Kings to just eight points in one quarter and 14 points in another is fabulous. I thought we gave them some energy points in the first quarter and you can’t have that on the road if you want to win. So we had to clean that up and we did.”
Bogut had 11 points, eight rebounds, four assists and two blocks with Jerome Randle adding 11 points, four boards, three steals and two assists but no other Sydney player scored in double-figures.
After the Kings led 23-20 at the end of the first quarter, Perth ramped up that vaunted defence, holding the Kings to just 22 points combined over the second and third quarters.
The floodgates opened when Bogut was forced to the bench with his third foul with three minutes left in the second period.
Perth led 37-31, but with Sydney’s defensive anchor on the pine, the Wildcats pounced, closing the quarter on a 10-0 run with Terrico White running rampant.
Perth led 47-31 at the half, and they had outscored the Kings 27-8 in the second quarter, holding Sydney to just 3/19 shooting in the frame while going 10/14 themselves.
A 9-3 run led by Angus Brandt, who was aggressive all night in taking it right at Andrew Bogut, made it a 22-point Perth advantage to start the second half, and the visitors kept pouring it on.
Steindl and White continued to get the job done offensively and Sydney had no answers, restricted to just 14 points in the frame as the Wildcats had a 68-44 lead with a quarter remaining.
With Gaze benching most of his starters for the final quarter, the result had long since been decided. Perth kept extending the misery of the nearly 9000 Kings’ fans blowing the margin out to as much as 31 points.
Sydney’s reserves restored some pride with the kind of effort and energy that had been lacking from the home team for most of the afternoon.
Coach Andrew Gaze talked afterwards about his team’s collapse in the second and third quarters.
“I think there’s a variety of things you can look at and it’s the accumulation of those things that hurt us. Turnovers and the rebounding early on when they were able to score some big buckets from offensive rebounding were issues,” Gaze said.
“It seems very simple, but we also missed a lot of shots that we would ordinarily expect to make. They were shooting the ball very well, and unfortunately the breaks of the game sometimes don’t go your way.”
The Kings now have a tough double in Round 16 against the fourth placed Brisbane Bullets while the Wildcats are back home to host the Illawarra Hawks on Friday.
NBL ROUND 15
PERTH WILDCATS 88 (Steindl 18, Cotton 16, Kay 16)
SYDNEY KINGS 68 (Bogut 11, Randle 11, Kickert 9)