THE Perth Wildcats have won their ninth NBL championship, defeating reigning champions Melbourne United 97-84 in game four of the grand final series.
The Wildcats win, a fitting way for vice-captain Greg Hire to end his career, came after Perth took an 11-point lead into the final term at Melbourne Arena to win the series 3-1.
Terrico White backed up his 31-point effort in game three in Perth on Friday night with 20 points, including a clutch three-pointer at the end of the third quarter. He was named the Larry Sengstock Medal winner for MVP of the grand final series.
Former NBL coach Andrew Gaze, who said the Wildcats needed to sign White as soon as they could for next season, praised captain Damian Martin as one of the all-time great leaders.
“He’s a credit to his family and his organisation,” he said of Martin.
Hire, who had a big impact in the first half, was brought on at the end of the game in a tribute move by coach Trevor Gleeson.
How many championships have Perth Wildcats won?
It was Hire’s fourth championship and Martin and Jessie Wagstaff’s fifth.
Bryce Cotton, who signed a three-year deal with Perth at the start of the season, scored a game-high 28 points on his way to his second NBL championship.
MVP White thanked the crowd, his teammates and said “this is for everyone who doubted us”, referring to calls mid-season for Perth to chase a third import.
United captain Chris Goulding congratulated Perth as a “deserved winner”.
In a game full of momentum swings, the Wildcats led 53-45 at halftime and held the home side to 12 points in the third quarter to set up the franchise’s fourth title in six seasons.
Nick Kay finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds.
White’s grand final MVP came after averages of 21.8 points, 6.8 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game.
Casper Ware led United’s scoring with 18 points, while Goulding and David Barlow each added 15.
Cotton and White combined for 17 first-quarter points as the Wildcats jumped out to an eight-point lead, but United closed with a 10-0 run to finish the term ahead 28-26.
United scored the first six points of the second quarter to extend their lead but Perth came roaring back as Cotton’s offensive firepower triggered a 12-0 run to establish a double-digit lead.
Late baskets to Ware and Goulding reduced Perth’s advantage to 53-45 by halftime and an 8-0 start to the third quarter allowed the home side to level the game.
But the Wildcats outscored United 15-4 the rest of the way to start the final quarter ahead 68-57.
Tensions boiled over in the third quarter with DJ Kennedy and Tom Jervis each picking up an unsportsmanlike foul after a tough challenge from the Perth centre on Mitch McCarron.
Mitch Norton punished a Melbourne turnover to open the final term and, while Goulding nailed a three-pointer to give his side a glimmer of hope, Cotton answered back from long range to end Melbourne’s quest for back-to-back championships.