Wildcats crush Bullets to storm into GF
PERTH imports Bryce Cotton and Terrico White powered the Wildcats into the NBL grand final with a hard-fought 84-79 victory over the Brisbane Bullets at Boondall on Saturday.
Brisbane put up a much bigger and better fight than they did in game one of the best-of-three semi-final series on Thursday, when they fell by 30 points at RAC Arena.
But Perth's peerless playoff experience came to the fore in the tense and physical battle to allow the Wildcats - in their 33rd consecutive finals series - to proceed to another decider.
Brisbane made the play-offs following two wooden spoons.
Cotton (19 points, 10 assists) and White (24 points) were the stars of the show for the Wildcats, who will play the winner of the Melbourne-Sydney semi-final series in the best-of-five grand final.
Nick Kay had 16 points and 15 rebounds for Perth in a pivotal performance.
For the gallant but ultimately vanquished Brisbane, import Lamar Patterson (19 points, six rebounds, four assists, three steals), centre Matt Hodgson (15 points) and Cam Bairstow (12 points, seven rebounds) were the best.
The Wildcats hit two big three-pointers at the start of the fourth quarter to suck the air out of the Brisbane Entertainment Centre, with Cotton and Kay providing the daggers to help their side to a nine-point lead.
Brisbane refused to go away and closed to within just two points of the Wildcats with three minutes left in the match.
There was just three points in it with 20 seconds on the clock, but Perth remained cool, calm and collected in the dying stages against the desperate Bullets.
Hodgson got in foul trouble early in the third term with two quick fouls as the officials got whistle-happy on the Bullets, calling five fouls in less than three minutes.
Brisbane harnessed their fury with the referees and mounted a comeback, getting to within two points of the Wildcats after a Patterson three-pointer.
But Perth managed to withstand the waves of Brisbane momentum to kick away late to a 69-62 cushion at the last change.
The free-flowing run-and-gun contest of the first quarter was replaced by a more gritty and grinding battle in the second term that was more akin to finals basketball with Perth taking a 49-41 lead into half-time.
White was the standout for the visitors with 19 points to half-time while Hodgson was fighting the good fight in the paint for Brisbane with 15 points at the main break. Bairstow also came to the party after a quiet game one, scoring 10 points across the first two quarters.
The Wildcats could not miss early and raced to a 14-8 buffer with White and Cotton leading the charge before Hodgson, Bairstow and Patterson combined to keep the home side in the contest.
Perth had a 25-20 buffer at quarter-time and Bullets coach Andrej Lemanis was called for a technical foul early in the second term as his frustrations with the officials boiled over.
The Bullets were behind the eight-ball before the opening tip-off when their spiritual leader Mika Vukona was a late withdrawal due to an Achilles injury.
The five-time NBL championship winner pulled up sore after the game one loss and went for scans on Friday night. The results showed a partial tear.
He did not appear on the team sheet or in the pre-game warm-ups and eventually emerged from the dressing room wearing jeans.
Without Vukona - who has a 25-15 win-loss record in NBL finals matches - Brisbane lost priceless experience and much-needed grunt in the paint.