THE Perth Wildcats have progressed to the NBL Grand Final where they will have a chance to defend their championship, thanks to a 74-66 victory over the Cairns Taipans at Perth Arena last night.
After defeating the Taipans last Friday with a stunning offensive display, it was the defensive intensity that set the tone early for the Wildcats, as they held the visitors to just eight points in the opening quarter.
Buoyed by the scoring of Casey Prather (24 points, 10 rebounds) and Jesse Wagstaff (20 points, five threes), the Wildcats held a charging Taipans side at bay throughout the second half, before some crucial rebounds and clutch free throws sealed the result and grand final berth.
“I was really proud of the boys to step up,” coach Trevor Gleeson said, who has guided his team to a third grand final in his four years at the helm.
“The application this week, how tune in they were to what we were doing, the group intelligence on the court; it was great.
“To hold a team like Cairns to eight points in the first quarter is unbelievable, then 22 for the half sets yourself up.”
Prather’s double-double was a fair reflection of his terrific game, while the consistency of Matt Knight’s jump shot helped the Wildcats find an early rhythm on offense.
The Wildcats shared the ball well, recording 16 assists on their 24 baskets, and found several avenues to the basket throughout the evening.
The loss for Cairns marked the end of WA-born Mark Worthington’s NBL career.
Worthington, who played 335 NBL games for six different clubs across 12 years, and who represented Australia at two Olympic Games, was given a standing ovation by the Perth Arena crowd as he left the court for the final time.
The Wildcats now wait to see whether they will face the Adelaide 36ers or Illawarra Hawks in the grand final, where the club will look to defend last season’s title and win its eighth NBL Championship.
Perth Wildcats 74 – (Casey Prather 24, Jesse Wagstaff 20, Matt Knight 12)
Cairns Taipans 66 – (Travis Trice 22, Tony Mitchell 17, Nnanna Egwu 9)