AFTER an A-grade first two games in this season’s semi-final matchup between the Perth Wildcats and the Cairns Taipans, we look forward to what will be an intense final game between two of the top offensive sides in the league. Here were the series of events that occurred over the weekend during a turbulent first two games that have led us to this point.
Game 1: Perth Wildcats (108) defeated Cairns Taipans (107)
In front of the red army, Bryce Cotton and his entourage came up big in the NBL’s opening playoff game, as RAC Arena witnessed perhaps the best game of the NBL 20 season to date. Cotton came out of the blocks strong, torching the Taipans from the perimeter, including a four-point play to end the opening period. With the Wildcats leading by nine after ten minutes, the Taipans showed why they are one of the most entertaining offensive sides in the league, completely upending the game and reversing the roles. Following a 34-16 second quarter, thanks to premium shooting by Scott Machado, Marco Djeric and Cameron Oliver, it was Cairns that went into the main break up by nine points. With their work cut out for them in the second half, Perth’s Nick Kay was the next man up, as he hit back-to-back three pointers to finish off the third period, therefore cutting the deficit to just three points, setting the crowd up for a do or die final quarter. Down the final stretch, Kay again came up big, nailing another three-point dagger with 30 seconds remaining to tie the game at 93 points apiece, which was followed up by the Taipans’ Fabijan Krslovic miss, sending the game into overtime. With the big guns going back and forth from both sides following regulation, the ball fell to Wildcats veteran Jesse Wagstaff at the free-throw line. After nailing both, it put the game beyond reach of Cairns, as the Wildcats took Game 1 by a sole point, setting the series up for a highly touted game two rematch.
Through four quarters and overtime, Cotton remained Perth’s go to man, finishing with a monumental 42 points through 43 minutes of play, staking his claim as the NBL’s only MVP. His counterpart in Scott Machado also made his presence known with a spectacular 31 points, eight rebounds and nine assists, but it was not enough to get his squad over the line. Other than Cotton, a major contributor for the Wildcats was Kay, who shot at a second to none rate, putting up 23 points, nine rebounds and six assists. He also went on to hit the mark on five of his six three-point attempts proving to be Perth’s lifeline in game one. For the Taipans, the other two from the big three tried their best to get their side over the line, with Dj Newbill accumulating 25 points, while Oliver was big on the boards with 17 rebounds, alongside 19 points. With Game 2 just two days later in North Queensland, Mike Kelly’s men were keen to bounce back and fight to their last breath.
Game 2: Cairns Taipans (85) defeated Perth Wildcats (74)
Following their narrow defeat on Friday night, Cairns got the jump on the Wildcats in the first quarter of Game 2, opening up a 14-point lead off the back of a Machado triple to end the period. The damage caused by the Taipans in the first quarter ultimately set the tone for the rest of the game with more of Cairns’ secondary players having an impact like Nate Jawai and Majok Deng putting up substantial numbers on the night. Despite outscoring the Taipans by six in the third quarter, the Wildcats could not get within striking distance of the home side, mainly due to inefficient shooting. With Perth shooting 38 per cent on the night compared to Cairns’ 47 per cent, it would be hard to shake a determined Taipans outfit eager to force a Game 3. At the end of forty minutes, the Taipans took out the contest 85-74 setting up for a deciding game back in Perth.
Oliver was the Taipans’ leading scorer on the night, making his minutes count with 22 points and 19 rebounds (averaging 18 rebounds through two games). Newbill was also prominent in front of the home crowd with 16 points, four rebounds and three assists. An unlikely standout performance in Clint Steindl for the Wildcats was the main talking point for the team, as the forward secured 18 points in 25 minutes of play, whilst Terrico White was good for 13 points of his own. It can be guaranteed that both sides will bring their best cards to the table come Tuesday night, but will the Taipans be able to upset the Wildcats on a home court that is seemingly impossible to win on? Or will the Wildcats handle business as usual and head to the final dance once again to defend their title?