The Perth Wildcats are one game away from a second straight title after Wednesday night’s come-from-behind win over Illawarra in game two of the best of five grand final series.
After beating the Hawks 89-77 in game one in Perth, the Wildcats overturned a 45-40 half-time deficit to prevail by the identical 89-77 score line in Game 2.
Bryce Cotton led Perth with 20 points and Casey Prather added 18, while Angus Brandt (15 points) filled a huge void after Matt Knight had to be assisted off the court early in the third term, suffering apparent concussion symptoms.
Captain Damian Martin – 4/5 from downtown – saved his best for crunch time, splashing three clutch three-point bombs to put the game out of Illawarra’s reach down the stretch.
AJ Ogilvy and Rotnei Clarke scored 21 points apiece for the Hawks but no other player reached double figures.
The home side led at quarter-time and half-time but were out-muscled and out-hustled in a decisive third quarter.
Perth won the rebound battle again and made 51 per cent of their shots compared to a deflating 39 per cent for the Hawks.
The Wildcats are on the cusp of their eighth championship, which would put them four clear of nearest clubs.
Hawks coach Rob Beveridge felt his team wasn’t so much out-played as they were outworked, receiving a harsh lesson in rebounding from the league’s best, just like they did in Game 1.
The Hawks wasted no time asserting themselves on Wednesday, particularly Ogilvy, who played like a man possessed in the opening period with seven points, four rebounds, two assists, two blocks and a steal.
The 28-year-old fuelled an early 14-4 run with frontcourt partner Nick Kay (six points), while Clarke added five off the bench.
Illawarra’s four offensive rebounds in the period exceeded their entire output for the prior game and helped them to a 24-18 quarter-time lead.
Brandt provided the ‘Cats with a solid target in the paint and the irrepressible Prather provided his usual high wire act, as Perth cut the margin to one.
Beveridge was literally knocked off his chair midway through the second period when he felt the full force of Martin’s desperate dive to save a loose ball in front of the Illawarra bench.
The pair laughed before Martin sprinted back into action and Beveridge straightened his suit, followed by a bow to amused Hawks fans.
Back on the court, Illawarra kept the ‘Cats at arm’s length, pushing the lead up to 40-34 with a little under two minutes remaining in the half.
The Cats typically hung tough and trailed 45-40 at half-time behind Prather’s and Brandt’s collective 27 points on 10/13 shooting.
Clarke led the home team with 15, while Ogilvy had 13 to go with seven boards and two blocks.
The Hawks had their noses in front 17-16 in the rebound battle, including six offensive boards to Perth’s three.
The visitors suffered a setback when the hard-working Knight was helped to the locker room less than a minute into the second half after innocuous contact with Prather, and llawarra took advantage.
They pushed the margin back up to eight, but the defending champs regrouped and grabbed their first lead since the first period, as Illawarra’s rebounding woes resurfaced.
They kept their noses in front on retiring veteran Shawn Redhage’s free throws and took a 63-59 lead into the final quarter.
Forward Wagstaff was the next Perth player to be assisted from the court after collecting Mitch Norton’s elbow two minutes into the fourth period.
The injuries only seemed to strengthen the Wildcats’ resolve and they took control with a decisive 10-0 run, punctuated by a pair of three-point daggers by Martin.
The series shifts back to Perth for Game 3 on Sunday afternoon, while Game 4 (if required) will be played in Hawks territory next Friday (March 10).
PERTH WILDCATS 89 (Cotton 20, Prather 18, Brandt 15)
ILLAWARRA HAWKS 77 (Clarke 21, Ogilvy 21, Kay 8)