IT was a game that everyone had circled on their calendar. Two juggernaut teams going at it, in what most assumed was as a preview for the grand final. But what made it iconic was just how insanely similar this game was compared to what transpired in the grand final. Well, except for the presence of actual fans, but tune in for that moment in the coming week. Looking back at this game in retrospect, it was like looking through magic crystals, we were staring right into the future but at the time we didn’t know it. Watching how Casper Ware would be nowhere to be seen on defence. Or how the Kings were so dependent on scoring in the paint that the lack of versatility led to their eventual demise. But most importantly, how Bryce Cotton would dominate the Kings with crafty jump shots and second chance points.
That was the main takeaway leaving this game, a reminder of just how remarkably talented Cotton really is, scoring a casual 39 points on one of the best defences in the league, 18 of which came in the fourth quarter as Cotton led the charge for a double-digit lead. Just to add to all of that, he also set a then career-high eight three-pointers in the 98-85 victory over the Kings. He left the game leading the league in points and steals, while becoming the first player in NBL history to drop 200 points on the same team in the same season – technically he dropped 222, but who is counting? He also left the game as the indisputable best player in the league, killing off any debates between him and fellow contemporaries. Clearly Sydney coach, Will Weaver just could not find an answer for him all season. But the funny thing is that there really should not be blame put on the Kings’ coaching staff for failing to contain Cotton, because the fact is no one in the league can stop him. He is just in a tier all of his own.
To be that good against a team that obtained the most wins all season is simply unbelievable, so it is no speculation to suggest that when these two teams faced each other in the grand final, Cotton and the Wildcats had a certain edge over their adversary. A mental imprint, stamped on each player from the Kings with highlights of this night, as the 39-point performance sunk overwhelming fear and anxiety into their hearts. This is the effect of legends, and after this season and postseason, Cotton should be remembered as a NBL legend. Just like how this one night forecasted how the NBL finals would play out, this season might act as an early prediction of what the next five years of the NBL have in store.
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