Perth uses big second half to defeat Melbourne 81-71 in Grand Final Game 1

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The Perth Wildcats turned on the afterburners after the equal lowest-scoring first half of the season opening the second with an 11-0 run that set the tone for the 81-71 Game 1 Grand Final win over Melbourne United.

RAC Arena greeted the hotly-anticipated Game 1 of the best-of-five series but it was a nervous start by both teams. They combined for a season-low 27 points in the first quarter and then an equal-low 62 in the opening half.

But Perth turned a four-point half-time deficit into 13-point lead by three quarter-time on the back of a 31-point outburst in the third term.

That set up the eventual 10-point win that came despite Bryce Cotton not catching fire ahead of Game 2 in Melbourne on Sunday.

Cotton only scored 10 points on 4/16 shooting and 0/9 from three. But he had eight assists and seven rebounds with partner-in-crime Terrico White delivering 19 points and eight rebounds, including 3/6 from three.

Angus Brandt was good inside for 14 points and seven rebounds while Nick Kay (five assists, four rebounds, three steals) and Jesse Wagstaff contributed 10 points each, Damian Martin eight and the returning Mitch Norton seven.

Wildcats coach Trevor Gleeson couldn’t have been happier with his team’s second half.

“I thought it was an outstanding second half. It was tough playoff basketball, physical and what you expect from a final. It was a tough, grind out game,” Gleeson said.

“We had some really good looks in the first half and just didn’t make them, then in the second half we got some really good looks too and Jesse got hot there a little bit to get us back in the game. Terrico was outstanding again.”

DJ Kennedy looked capable of getting any look he wanted in the first half before a heavy knock to the jaw when he ran into a screen from Brandt. He returned in the second half having been cleared of concussion but only added three points for 11 on the game.

On top of his defence on Cotton, Casper Ware had 19 points for Melbourne with five rebounds and four assists on 8/18 shooting. Chris Goulding added 15 points and Alex Pledger nine to go with six boards as he chases a fifth championship.

United coach Dean Vickerman was happy with the work done on Cotton but not necessarily in closing out on Perth’s other threats.

“I thought our plan on Cotton was solid and Casper had the ability to bust through screens and limit his effectiveness,” Vickerman said.

“But obviously in that third quarter it was an interesting one for us where we were a little bit unsure how DJ was. But once he came out, he took a knock to the jaw so there were no problems with concussion, so we threw him out there.

“Mitch (McCarron) had three fouls too but they came out with the right mindset and I’ve called a timeout within the first minute of that third quarter. We didn’t come out the right way and that built some momentum for them.

“Damo hit a couple of big shots, we collapsed too far and Jesse made a couple to punch that lead out and it was tough to get back after that.”

The Grand Final scoring started with a little hook inside from Brandt before Kennedy responded in kind. The ‘Cats opened up the first break leading 11-6 when White knocked down the first three.

The Wildcats were up 14-8 after an and-one from Kay before United finished the lowest-scoring first quarter of the season with a 5-0 run capped with a Ware triple.

The ‘Cats came out with the first five points of the second term thanks to the returning Norton and Clint Steindl. But then United hit a hot streak with a 9-0 run starting with two inside buckets from Pledger, a Goulding three and Ware basket.

That put them up 22-19 and they still led 26-23 after two more scores from Ware, and then 30-25 when Kennedy and Josh Boone combined for four straight points.

Kennedy running into a heavy Brandt shoulder changed the tone somewhat and Perth responded but Melbourne still led 33-29 at the half thanks to a three from Goulding on the buzzer.

Kennedy pulled off the miracle return for the second half but it failed to inspire his team. Brandt scored four quick points for the ‘Cats forcing Vickerman into a furious timeout after just a minute.

It didn’t stop the run with White scoring a pair of baskets and Kay nailing a three as Perth went on an 11-0 run to be up seven when Mitch McCarron also picked up his fourth foul for United.

Pledger stopped Perth’s run but not for long. Norton and White also hit threes to make it an 11-point game before Ware, Dave Barlow and Goulding responded form beyond the arc for Melbourne.

The Wildcats still led 60-47 going into the fourth after a pair of Wagstaff threes.

Melbourne showed glimpses of a fight back closing to seven after Ware knocked down a three and Pledger finished inside with 3:40 left. But they couldn’t get closer with Perth responded with triples to White and Martin.

A couple of missed chances from Boone set the tone down the stretch including a massive block on him by Steindl and the Wildcats got to enjoy the last minute even if Venky Jois did throw one down late for Melbourne.


PERTH WILDCATS 81 (White 19, Brandt 14, Kay 10, Cotton 10, Wagstaff 10)

MELBOURNE UNITED 71 (Ware 19, Goulding 15, Kennedy 11)

Perth leads series 1-0


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