NBL Grand Final Series: Perth Wildcats draw first blood against Illawarra Hawks

Trevor Gleeson, coach of the Wildcats, celebtrates a basket late in the game during game one of the NBL Grand Final series between the Wildcats and Illawarra Hawks at Perth Arena. Picture: Paul Kane/Getty Images
Trevor Gleeson, coach of the Wildcats, celebtrates a basket late in the game during game one of the NBL Grand Final series between the Wildcats and Illawarra Hawks at Perth Arena. Picture: Paul Kane/Getty Images

THE three-pronged attack of Casey Prather, Bryce Cotton and Matt Knight lifted the Perth Wildcats to a 89-77 win over the Illawarra Hawks at Perth Arena yesterday to open the NBL Grand Final Series.

After some rust showed early, it was Knight who gave the Wildcats some respite with 10 first quarter points following a strong start from a Hawks side missing import Marvelle Harris, and centre AJ Ogilvy fighting through an injured ankle.

Knight had the touch from 15-20 feet from the get-go and continued hitting his mid-range jumpers throughout the evening to finish with 18 points.

Prather ended up with 22 to go with six rebounds and five assists in a man-of-the-match performance, while Cotton added 18 points, six boards and four assists.

That gave the Wildcats the impetus to win game 1 of the five-game series.

The visitors fought hard and at different points Cody Ellis (12 points), Tim Coenraad (11), Rotnei Clarke (11), Rhys Martin (11) and Kevin White (9) scored quick points.

But no Hawk got going for long enough to see them close in on the 100-point mark they have been hitting with regularity of late.

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In fact, Perth is the only team Illawarra has yet to score 90 against this season.

The stifling defence of Damian Martin also limited Clarke to just eight shots, of which he made three.

Offensive rebounds also hurt Illawarra, with Perth pulling down a monstrous 17 boards, including six to Knight who had 11 rebounds overall.

The Wildcats had 23 second chance points to just four from the Hawks; a stat that proved pivotal.

Casey Prather starred for the Wildcats with 22 points. Picture: Paul Kane/Getty Images

It was a nervy start by both teams with a scoreless first five possessions until Ogilvy put one in from close range for the Hawks.

The Hawks settled quicker than the Cats, who had not laced up in a week, but Knight was not missing his jumpers for 10 first quarter points and Prather’s pressure on both sides of the ball was helping keep the Cats close.

It was Rhys Martin who gave Illawarra an extra spark with eight quick points for them to lead 26-21 at the first break.

That lead grew with a three from Clarke to start the second term and the Hawks were threatening to run away with it when Norton made a tough layup to make it 35-27.

Illawarra then went on a four-minute scoring drought, with Cotton firing to help Perth to a 10-0 run to reclaim the lead.

Cotton, who was not bashful (10 three-point attempts), hit another three soon after but the Hawks steadied and scores were locked up at 42 by halftime.

The Hawks’ role players continued to take turns in standing up and five quick points to White saw them lead by four early in the second half, but it did not last.

The array of weapons Perth possesses and the willingness to dominate the game with hustle was starting to win out, and the lead was six by three quarter-time after a buzzer-beating Angus Brandt put back slam.

Ellis tried to lift the Hawks in his hometown with seven quick points but Prather, Cotton and Knight scored Perth’s last 18 points to wrap up the 12-point victory.

Game 2 will be at WIN Entertainment Centre on Wednesday night.

PERTH WILDCATS 89 (Prather 22, Cotton 18, Knight 18)
ILLAWARRA HAWKS 77 (Ellis 12, Clarke 11, Coenraad 11, Martin 11)