Tag: Bryce Cotton

2019/20 NBL season review: South East Melbourne Phoenix

A SIGHT for sore eyes within the NBL community, as a ninth team would enter the competition to begin the NBL 20 season. For the first time since the dissolution of the South Dragons, there was once again a Victorian team to combat Melbourne United. But this time, instead of red and black it would be green and black.

The South East Melbourne Phoenix came into the League with high-expectations, and given their opening round matchup with United, it was the perfect occasion to announce their entry into the NBL.

New Boys on the Block

To begin their season off, the NBL’s first ‘Throwdown’ was set to take place in Melbourne Arena. It was clear after their performance against United, that the Phoenix’s style of play started to shine through. After going 12 of 23 from downtown and toppling United by three points, it would set the tone for the rest of the season, as South East Melbourne would go on to become one of the NBL’s most efficient and high-octane offences throughout the season.

Following from their Round 1 victory, the Phoenix would keep it rolling, knocking over the Bullets and the Hawks at home, tipping off their inaugural season with a handsome 3-0 record. Despite the Phoenix taking home victories against relatively good teams, their first real challenge came in Round 4, as they sized up against the reigning premiers at RAC Arena. Following a very lacklustre first half against Bryce Cotton and his team, the Wildcats would go on to rout the newly formed team, ending their season opening winning streak.

After their trouncing in Western Australia, results would become a lot less consistent, going down to the likes of the 36ers, the Kings and twice to United. But following on from their good start at the beginning of the season, it was paramount to head coach Simon Mitchell, that his side “take it one game at a time”, saying this constantly throughout press conferences in the first half of the season. Coming to the mid-way point of the season, the Phoenix were the definition of average at this point. Sitting just outside the top four with a record of six wins and six losses. The rest of the season was now in the hands of the NBL’s youngest franchise. But the next ten rounds would prove to be anything but smooth.

In the next 16 matchups for South East Melbourne they would go on to accumulate an abhorrent three wins and 13 losses, while also finishing their campaign on an eight-game losing streak. With 20 rounds of basketball completed, the Phoenix would nestle into eighth position with a final record of nine wins and 19 losses. While South East Melbourne would compete relatively well at home, it was their inability to take on opponents on the road. This task of winning on the road was only able to be done a mere three times in 14 contests, which really set back the side in the standings.

The biggest flames

John Roberson

From the beginning of the season, John Roberson was one of the NBL’s most venomous offensive weapons. Leading from the point when Kyle Adnam was on the bench, Roberson was more times than not responsible for the Phoenix’s efficiency from the floor. This is further evidenced by the statistics of his debut season in Australia’s topflight in basketball. Averaging more than 20 points per outing whilst shooting at an impressive 46 per cent for the season, Roberson proved to be a reliable source of production for his side. Not only was Roberson effective from the field as a whole, but the majority of his damage came from beyond the arc. Averaging four three-pointers a game. He would go on to lead the league in this category.

Other categories worth mentioning include being the League’s fourth highest scorer and third in the category of assists, averaging 5.8 per game. He would also go on to break the NBL’s record for overtime points in a game (15) and also the single-season record for three-pointers, which he did back in late-January. If the Phoenix are to keep Roberson on for the 2021 season, then it is almost certain that they will base their 12-man squad around him.

Mitchell Creek

With Roberson taking care of the Phoenix’s backcourt, Simon Mitchell needed someone who could make a difference from the wing, but also be a presence inside if needed there. That someone would be Mitchell Creek. Standing at six foot five inches and weighing 95 kilos, the bulky slasher was exactly the right fit. After gaining NBA experience with the Brooklyn Nets, mostly in the G-League, his skills would become very productive throughout the NBL season, consistently collecting statistics in numerous categories.

Amongst being one of the League’s top-scorers alongside Roberson, Creek would also crack the top 10 in rebounding and steals. In conclusion, Creek would average 20.2 points, 7.3 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.2 steals a game in a season compounded by stat-filling play.

Dane Pineau

The story of Dane Pineau’s NBL 20 season is not one of stat-stuffing phenomenon, but a story of miraculous development. Pineau had joined the Phoenix following two seasons averaging three and half minutes a game as a bench player/reserve at the Sydney Kings. Following his transition to Victoria, he immediately increased his workload to that of an NBL veteran.

Pineau would go on to play in 26 minutes of each Phoenix contest as his undersized efforts would start to garner attention across the nation. His efforts on the defensive end would be recognised by his peers later on in the season, as he would be nominated for the Most Improved Player award come the end of the season. Obtaining a whopping 49 votes within the category, he would fall just four votes short to Brisbane’s Will Magnay, but it would still be a season to remember.

The 25-year-old would average 8.1 points, 8.7 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per contest, all dramatic increases compared to his seasons at the Kings, making him one of the League’s best power forwards at the moment.

Coach Mitchell’s remarks

Following his side’s loss to Melbourne United in Round 20, coach Mitchell had these comments to say about the first season of the South East Melbourne Phoenix.

“What I just asked the guys before [the game] is to look each other in the eye and just savour the moment,” Mitchell said. “We’re a pretty tight-knit group but we won’t be the same group next year and we never will be. But no one else will ever be the first roster of the South-East Melbourne Phoenix, so that’s something these guys will have forever, and I just want them to take a moment to reflect upon that.”

2019/20 NBL season review: Illawarra Hawks

THE Illawarra Hawks came into the NBL season with high aspirations, following a disappointing yet somewhat successful 2018-19 season. Finishing seventh out of eight teams, it looked a little worse for wear. But, the fact remained that the Hawks were only two wins off a .500 record, with 12 wins from 28 matches. Nevertheless, with the acquisitions of a couple of major signings, meant the people of Illawarra had something to look forward to for NBL20.

Marquee Signings

LaMelo Ball

Since 2017, the NBL has implemented the ‘Next Stars’ program, where aspiring players could develop in the NBL until they are ready to enter into the NBA Draft, rather than go through the college system that many athletes have decided to go through. Prior to the season, it was announced that up and coming prospect, LaMelo Ball, would be the next recruit to make their way down under. Following his signing to the Illawarra Hawks, the young headliner immediately started to turn heads following his Round 1 performance against the Bullets, collecting 12 points, eight rebounds and four assists. This kind of stat line became a weekly occurrence for the 18-year-old, as throughout his 12 games, the Californian averaged 17 points, seven assists and seven and a half rebounds per game. Which for a guard his age and with his style, caused plenty of interest and most importantly was unseen in the NBL. The import was set to miss four weeks due to a bruised foot that occurred in early December during a practice session. Following six weeks out of the game, Ball took to social media to announce he would miss the remainder of the season to focus on recovery in preparation for next year’s NBA draft, finishing his season in partially anti-climactic fashion.

Aaron Brooks

With more than a decade of experience in the NBA, the Illawarra Hawks were set to base their entire offence around former Most Improved Player in the NBA, Aaron Brooks. Following the signing of Brooks, the 35-year-old averaged 17.9 points per game and over four assists in seven outings. Despite winning only one of their opening seven match-ups, the worst-case scenario came to fruition for Brooks, when the guard from Seattle tore his Achilles tendon attempting to block a Bryce Cotton three-pointer. Immediately following this, it was announced that Brooks would miss out on the remainder of the season, compounding the bad luck that the Hawks would go through in regard to their players’ health.

Josh Boone

One of Illawarra’s weaknesses the season prior, was their lack of inside presence, which the Hawks attempted to remedy through the signing of one of their two free agency acquisitions. Josh Boone, who had spent two and a half season with Melbourne, had reached the NBL finals series twice prior to NBL 20, winning the chip in 2017/18. Boone became one the Hawks most prominent contributors throughout the season, finishing with more than eight points and 5.8 rebounds a game in 18 minutes per contest.

Todd Blanchfield

Seasoned veteran and the second of Illawarra’s free-agency signings, Todd Blanchfield was acquired to score from all parts of the court for Illawarra and standing at 200cm tall with the ability to beat most big men off the dribble, Blanchfield provided the Hawks with numerous man of the match performances. Averaging over 13 points per game and close to four rebounds at a 42 per cent clip, Blanchfield proved to be one of Illawarra’s most utilised player playing more than 30 minutes a game throughout the season.

Journey to The Spoon

Illawarra’s objective to move upwards in the standings this season did not look likely following the first portion of the season as the Hawks only won a single game in their first eight contests, solidifying them in bottom position with a big chunk of the season still to play.

Following their rough start to the season, which saw the season ending injury of Brooks against the Wildcats, the Hawks went on to beat the Taipans for the second time, which was significant given the level of play the Taipans played at for the rest of the season. One of the perks that came with the signing of Ball was the amount of attention that the young star garnered wherever he played. Come November 17, the Hawks travelled to Qudos Bank Arena to face the top-seeded Kings in front of an NBL record-breaking crowd of 17,514 people. Going down by just five points in what was considered a very competitive contest for the Hawks, and a day that those who played in that game should remember for the rest of their lives.

While a major highlight for Hawks players would be playing in that record-breaking game for attendance, they would also manage to topple the minor-premier, Sydney Kings the next time out on their home floor in Wollongong, edging out the purple and gold 85-80 later in Round 13.

The rest of the season was rather challenging for Illawarra, as throughout the season, the Hawks’ record was consistently littered with lengthy losing streaks including an eight-game streak to finish their season, spanning January 1 to February 14, concluding their season with a record of five wins and 23 losses. The Hawks had four less wins than the next highest team, South-East Melbourne Phoenix, and unfortunately it was five less wins compared to last season.

Despite their rather unsuccessful season finishing at the bottom of the table, Illawarra Hawks owners Simon and Wendy Stratford said in a media release that they were proud of the club as a whole and were looking forward to a promising future.

“Although it was a tough season on the court, we have made huge strides building the club and the Illawarra Hawks brand, to be a strong force in the NBL,” they said.

The pair would go on to praise Illawarra’s young secondary unit at their disposal following the various injuries the Hawks would have to deal with. Players praised included Angus Glover, Sam Froling and Sunday Dech.

The up and comers

Angus Glover

One of Illawarra’s stand out rookies, Angus Glover proved his worth late in the season following the exit of fellow teammate Ball. Glover’s minutes at the start of the season increased significantly as a result of Ball’s exit from the league, going from below ten minutes a game to averaging over twenty in the second half of the season. Glover’s season stat line would provide him with 5.2 points per game, as well as 2.3 rebounds with 1.2 assists. He also maintained a 44 per cent field goal efficiency throughout the season, which would in turn earn the 21-year-old an Australian Boomers selection for the 2021 Asia Cup qualifiers alongside fellow Hawks teammates Daniel Grida, Sam Froling, Blanchfield and Dech.

Sam Froling

When 20-year-old Sam Froling came into the NBL at the start of this season, many did not expect his progression to happen so quickly, and as a result the youngster is gearing up for a potentially special second season in the NBL. Like Glover, minutes came in small amounts leading into the new season. However, more and more responsibility was placed on the rookie, culminating in a single game where Froling played 23 minutes against an in-form Taipans unit, scoring 13 points and grabbing five rebounds catching the eye of international recruiters in the process. Froling finished his season averaging six points and almost three and a half rebounds per game, whilst maintaining a 46 per cent clip from the field in a successful first year of professional basketball.

Sunday Dech

Illawarra rounded out their young core group of players when they signed 26-year-old Dech, who coupled up with fellow swingman Blanchfield to help facilitate the Hawks offence. Excluding Brooks and Ball, Dech became Illawarra’s second leading scorer on the roster averaging over nine points a game, while averaging 23 minutes of play per game developing into one of the league’s most improved players.

Coach Flinn’s remarks

“Whilst the record is not good, success is measured in different ways,” Flinn said post-game against the Kings in the final round of the NBL 20 season. “Obviously we’re not happy with where we’re at in terms of where we finished on the ladder, but we are quite happy with the forward progress we’re making and the trajectory of the club.”

It is safe to say that Illawarra was easily the worst performing team throughout this season, however it brings up many questions in relation to next season. It has been a number of years since so many players from the same club have been selected to the Australian Boomers squad, and with these selected Hawks’ players still currently being of a younger age, you might just need to pay attention to how Illawarra’s squad is going to shake up for 2021, and whether they might be touted as playoff contenders.

Perth Wildcats announced as 2019/20 NBL Champions

PERTH Wildcats have won their fourth title in five years and their fifth in seven years after being judged the winner of the 2019/20 National Basketball League (NBL) title amidst unforeseen circumstances. With the threat of COVID-19 a big factor in the eventual decision – which saw Sydney Kings withdraw from the finals series on Tuesday, Perth Wildcats were announced the winners after holding a 2-1 lead over the Kings following the first three games.

With Game 4 and Game 5 cancelled, the League investigated the ruling behind what to do in this scenario, and it was clear that the Wildcats deserved the trophy. Following on from the announcement of the title winners, the Larry Senstock Medallist – the Most Valuable Player (MVP) in the Grand Final Series – went to Wildcats’ star Bryce Cotton winning his second Grand Final MVP after his 2016/17 award.

“We have taken extensive advice on this matter from the NBL Board of Directors, members of our Advisory Board, FIBA and our external legal advisers K&L Gates and I thank all of them for the benefit of their insight and perspective,” NBL Commissioner Jeremy Loeliger said. “Having considered all of that advice, we have concluded that there is only one outcome that is most appropriate in the circumstances of the League having made the decision to cancel games 4 and 5 of the Finals Series.

“We feel that the rules set out in the NBL Operations Manual are clear in this regard. “In this instance, Games 4 and 5 were cancelled by the League due to unforeseen circumstances pursuant to Rule 34 of the NBL Operations Manual. “I’d like to offer my congratulations to both our Champions, the Perth Wildcats, and our runners up the Sydney Kings and our Finals MVP Bryce Cotton.”

Perth sealed the championship with a 2-1 lead after defeating Sydney 111-96 at Qudos Bank Arena on Sunday, following Sydney’s series-leveller two days earlier of in Perth. It was Cotton who stole the show throughout the series, putting up 90 points (at an average of 30 per game), as well as 6.0 rebounds, 4.5 assists and one steal per game.

It was Perth’s 10th title in NBL history, while it was Sydney’s third straight runner-up attempt following a three-peat from 2002/03 to 2004/05. The Wildcats move a remarkable 10 titles clear of their nearest rivals, the Adelaide 36ers and Melbourne Tigers (four each).

2019/20 NBL title decision: Who should win?

THE National Basketball League (NBL) championship is yet to be decided with the Grand Final Series being abandoned with two games to spare given the coronavirus outbreak. With player welfare at the forefront of the mind, the Sydney Kings decided to call it quits on the remainder of the series and despite the Perth Wildcats leading 2-1 over minor premiers Sydney, the result is yet to be determined. Arguments can be made for both sides in regards to which team should walk away with the title given their impressive seasons. We take a look at the options.

Sydney Kings:

There is no denying that the Kings were the front runners throughout the season, kick-starting their campaign with a seven game winning streak and only dropping a mere eight games for the whole season. They seemed to have all the answers time and time again, with their home court Qudos Bank Arena becoming a real fortress winning a staggering 12 out of 14 games there. Led by big man Andrew Bogut with an average of 8.80 rebounds per game the Kings proved to be too strong with teammate Xavier Cooks also chiming in off the boards to record an average of 9.07 rebounds a game. When it came to scoring, Casper Ware was the go to man, able to hit the scoreboard with ease whether it be from within the paint or beyond the arc with an average of 19.68 points while Jae’Sean Tate also came into his own throughout the season.

Despite their impressive form throughout the home and away season, the Kings looked a bit worse for wear in snippets during the finals, getting smashed by Melbourne United in what was a history making performance by United. While the Kings recovered, ultimately downing their interstate rivals and moving through to the Grand Final Series they have not been able to recapture their signature pressure and winning ways. Ware lost his scoring mojo unable to have his usual influence and while the likes of Kevin Lisch and Brad Newley have stepped up it has not been enough to generate a match winning total.

Perth Wildcats:

Up 2-1 in the Grand Final Series it is almost impossible to rip the trophy away from the reigning premiers who are looking for back-to-back NBL titles. The Wildcats have been red-hot premiership contenders throughout the season pushing teams to their limits and notching up key wins against fellow top four sides. The Wildcats have a wealth of key players but none bigger than powerhouse Bryce Cotton. After playing 27 games throughout the 2019/20 season Cotton was second in the league for points per game with a whopping 22.48 something that he well and truly brought into his finals campaign with the dynamo constantly lighting up the scoreboard. While Terrico White had a quiet year in comparison to his previous ones, the likes of Nick Kay stood up to shoulder the load while recruit Miles Plumlee showed his worth off the backboard.

Renowned for their ability to win at home, sitting at an 11-3 win-loss record Perth often used the crowd at RAC Arena to create an intense atmosphere many opposition sides were fearful of. Although they had not won a final at the venue so far in the Grand Final Series, a home court advantage in Game 4 could have been enough to give them that winning edge and claim premiership glory for consecutive seasons. They have shown that they can it match with the best travelling to Sydney on two occasions and taking down their opponents by three and 15 points respectively in Game 1 and 3.

Perth takes 2-1 lead in Grand Final Series

PERTH Wildcats proved too strong in Game 3 of the National Basketball League (NBL) Grand Final Series running out convincing 15 point winners  over Sydney Kings. The Wildcats edged one game closer to back-to-back championships with 111-96 victory. It was the first time since 1999 that the first three games in a grand final series were won by the visiting team.

As both sides channelled their inner basketball gym memories thanks to the empty seats due to the coronavirus, it was Perth that edged ahead to begin the game. Following the explosive start from Miles Plumlee, earning himself six points, two assists and a couple of blocks within the opening five minutes, the Wildcats finished the quarter holding the Kings to a mere 18 points as they produced 29 of their own, setting the tone early at Qudos Bank Arena.

The second quarter featured a couple of standout performers for the Kings, as three second quarter three-pointers from Brad Newley kept the home side within striking distance, while Jae’Sean Tate made his mark around the rim. Despite these factors, Sydney’s mission to cut the deficit was becoming futile given they had only outscored the Wildcats by one point in the second period, trailing by 10 at the main break.

However, it was in the opening half of the third quarter that Sydney finally made headway, tying up the game off the back of a pull-up three from Kevin Lisch. Nevertheless, that would be as close as Sydney would get to stealing Game 3 from the defending champions thanks to two big three pointers from Nick Kay, who ultimately set himself up for a night to remember. Stretching their lead back out to 14 with ten minutes remaining in the contest, all Trevor Gleeson’s men had to do was conduct their regular brand of basketball to the end, and following an alley-oop jam for Plumlee four seconds into the fourth quarter, it was safe to say Perth would conduct business as usual.

Good shooting from the starters to the bench for the Wildcats would see out a competitive Game 3 winning the contest 111-96, therefore setting up a bid to win the series back in Perth for Game 4. But, given the fact that the home team in all three games thus far has not won yet, it could mean a potential Game 5 if the Kings can pick themselves up. While four out of Sydney’s starting five amassed double-digit numbers, Will Weaver’s men still could not get the job done. Nevertheless, noticeable performances by Tate (20 points and six rebounds) and Newley (19 points and five rebounds) rounded out the Kings’ stat lines. Lisch also made substantial contributions with 16 points, while Casper Ware again struggled from the field with 11 points, going 5-20 (25 per cent) from the field.

For the Wildcats, it was a two man show once again as their NBL First Team stars were the main culprits. Bryce Cotton who shot close to fifty per cent, finished with 31 points, seven assists and seven rebounds in what was an all-around performance from the MVP.

On the other hand, it was a career-high night for Kay, collecting 30 points, 12 rebounds and four assists as he dominated from start to finish from deep. Alongside his numbers, Kay managed seven threes in a dominant performance offensively further solidifying his spot amongst the NBL’s elite. It is the second time in NBL history (first time since 1986) that two teammates have amounted 30 points each in a Grand Final series game (Cotton, 31 and Kay, 30). Good performances from Plumlee (13 points and seven rebounds) and Terrico White (10 points and four assists) aided the away side, while Clint Steindl made his shots count as he summed up his night with 13 points, going three of four from deep.

With Game 4 scheduled for Friday at RAC Arena, Perth has the chance to retain their championship on their home floor, but whether this kicks the Kings into gear and force a deciding Game 5, we will have to find out later this week.

2019/20 NBL Grand Final Game 3 preview: Sydney Kings vs. Perth Wildcats

WITH the National Basketball League (NBL) Grand Final Series tied at one game apiece, Sydney Kings return home to Qudos Bank Arena to take on Perth Wildcats. The former hopes to take control of the home court advantage unlike in the first game, and put themselves in a good position to take out the 2019/20 title – their first since 2007/08 – and stop the Wildcats making it back-to-back titles and their fourth in five years.

Sydney Kings bounced back from a two-point loss here at Qudos Bank Arena, to comfortably account for the Wildcats at RAC Area, 97-83. Andrew Bogut was the star with 19 points, 13 rebounds and two assists in Friday night’s game, making his average for the series 18.5 points, 12.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists to be the leading Grand Final Most Valuable Player (MVP) candidate if the minor premiers get up.

If the Wildcats win overall, it seems fairly straightforward that 2019/20 MVP Bryce Cotton will take out the medal, having no fear here in Sydney after a phenomenal effort of 32 points, six rebounds, four assists and a steal in Game 1. Returning home, Cotton was almost as strong, picking up 27 points, five rebounds, three assists and one steal for an average of 29.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists and one steal across the two games

Other players for the Kings who have been impressive thus far are Kevin Lisch (18.5 points) and Jae’Sean Tate (15.5 points, 5.0 rebounds and 2.0 assists), while Nick Kay (15.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists) has been the sole Wildcat really helping Cotton on the scoring front. Miles Plumlee (8.0 points, 7.5 rebounds) has been strong off the boards but ultimately overwhelmed by Bogut.

In terms of players that need to lift, it is hard to look past Casper Ware and Terrico White for their respective sides. Ware has averaged just 6.5 points, 2.0 rebounds and 2.5 assists, shooting at a woeful 16.7 per cent from the field. For Perth, White has just not been able to get his mojo going, averaging 6.0 points, 3.0 rebounds, 1.0 assists and also holding a lowly 27.8 per cent shooting efficiency.

Looking at overall team statistics, both sides have managed a remarkable 58 defensive rebounds across the two games, though the Kings are much better at second chance points with 26 offensive rebounds compared to the Wildcats’ 12. The turnovers are fairly even with Sydney having two more than Perth (27-25). The Wildcats’ clear strength is their ability to win the ball back and deny the opposition with 16 steals to seven, and nine blocks to three. The Wildcats have also committed more fouls in trying to do so however, recording 40-33 in this series.

Heading into Game 3, the Kings will be favourites to make it back-to-back wins and bounce back from the initial Game 1 loss last week. If Sydney can win, then it puts title favouritism fairly and squarely in the Kings’ court with a guaranteed third home game on offer even if they lose in Perth. For the Wildcats, a win would be instrumental to Perth’s back-to-back chances, because it means the Wildcats have a home game coming up, whereas a loss means they are on the ropes not only having to win at home, but take out the title in a challenging Game 5 here in Sydney.

Bogut stars as Kings level series in empty jungle

ANDREW Bogut has continued his unbelievable form from the first game of the National Basketball League (NBL) Grand Final series to play a starring role in helping his side level the series at one game apiece. Bogut amassed 19 points and 13 rebounds in Sydney Kings’ 97-83 win over Perth Wildcats at RAC Arena in Perth in front of an empty stadium to ensure the Kings headed back home to Qudos Bank Arena back on level terms.

After Perth upset the minor premiers on the road in Game 1, Sydney needed to conjure something special to level the series in the west, and with the threat of the Coronavirus very real and impacting all sports, the NBL made the decision to close off the stadium – and indeed the stadiums for the remainder of the series – to any fans. It meant the home court advantage was effectively mitigated, with only the travel factor the big difference.

The visitors started the game off on the right note with a 31-27 first term, then extended the lead to six by half-time with a strong opening half. Bogut already had a double-double by that stage, with Kevin Lisch also busy at the half, while Bryce Cotton and Nick Kay were the standouts for the Wildcats by the main break. Unsurprisingly, the Wildcats refused to give in and hit back in the third term with a 22-19 quarter to cut the deficit to three heading into the final term. A superb effort by the Kings in the final stanza saw them out run the home team with a 21-10 quarter to secure the 14-point victory, 97-83.

Bogut was the star with his double-double as well as two assists and one steal, shooting 61.5 per cent from the field. He and Lisch (19 points, two rebounds) combined well to get the team going, while leading scorer, Jae’Sean Tate kept the good times rolling with a team-high 20 points, three rebounds and two assists. Helping Bogut off the boards was Xavier Cooks with 10 rebounds to go with his five points and two assists, while Brad Newley had an underrated game of nine points, five rebounds and five assists. Casper Ware was again quiet for the visitors, having the eight points, one rebound, two assists and one steal in he match and shooting just 30 per cent from the field.

There was never any stopping Cotton with the this season’s Most Valuable Player (MVP) putting up a game-high 27 points, as well as five rebounds, three assists and one steal in the loss. The other two prominent scorers were Kay (17 points, seven rebounds) and Clint Steindl (12 points) with the latter coming off the bench to have an impact. Terrico White was quiet for the home side with just five points, three rebounds, while Miles Plumlee still had an impact off the boards but was overshadowed by fellow NBA player, Bogut, recording eight rebounds and six points.

The result means the series is now tied at 1-1 with the third game at Qudos Bank Arena tomorrow night – which will again be empty – before heading back to Perth for the fourth game. If the Wildcats end up winning a second consecutive road game, then they could celebrate back-to-back titles in heir home town, whereas if the Kings get up, then Sydney could steal the title while in Perth.

2019/20 NBL Grand Final Game 2 preview: Perth Wildcats vs. Sydney Kings

GAME 1 of this epic clash lived up to all the hype and then some. Sydney’s mere two point loss to Perth was soul crushing, yet extremely exciting. Coming off another two-point nail-biter in their victory against Melbourne the week before, the Kings would be mentally exhausted, as the Wildcats won by the skin of their teeth. Game 1 has set a high bar for fans expectations for Game 2, where Perth has a chance to take a 2-0 lead in the series.

Perth’s win on the road against Sydney was monumental for the traveling side considering the Kings have only lost two games at home all season. It was Bryce Cotton’s game from start to finish proving exactly why he is the Most Valuable Player (MVP) of the league capturing a jaw dropping 32 points. Perth got the majority of their buckets from the mid-range, exploiting Sydney’s drop coverage. Although Sydney held a narrow five point lead at the end of the third, they simply could not put their foot on the throat. But after some crafty three pointers, Perth were right back into it, and eventually came out on top highlighting their grit and determination. If this is even a little glimpse into how Game 2 will play out, the Kings must find a way to lock down Cotton.

Cotton is one of the best scorers in the league, and although the mid-range shot might be the worst analytical shot an opponent can take, Cotton is no ordinary opponent. Sydney must adjust and find a different way to defend that middle pick and roll, or Game 2 could be another long night for the Kings. But losing at home in Game 1 can really damage a team’s confidence heading into the next game away. Especially, when that team was nearly undefeated on their home court. Sydney will be hoping to regroup and address the game plan, starting with Andrew Bogut. The big man whose mere presence spreads fear into opponents struggled to have his usual influence, as Bryce Cotton stockpiled most of his points in the key. But do not be surprised if this actually plays into Sydney’s advantage, as it is widely known Bogut plays best with a chip on his shoulder. The recent ridicule surrounding Bogut’s performance in terms of his aggressiveness and defensive intensity might be the spark the Kings need for Bogut to impose himself once again. But the worst possible thing Sydney could do is let Perth build an early lead. Perth is coming in with the momentum of a victory, which might give them a slight mental edge. If Sydney sees themselves trailing at half, away from home, already a game down, the mental fortitude might just be too much.

Perth holds fortress status heading into the next battle, along with significant veteran leadership. This is something that is highly undervalued but crucial come playoffs. Veterans such as Miles Plumlee, Damian Martin, Jesse Wagstaff know how to rally the troops, and are important pieces built around maximising the most out of Cotten’s abilities. But having the indisputable best player on the court is the best advantage Perth holds over Sydney. While we cannot expect Cotton to have another 32-point night, you can be certain that he will impact the team positively, whether that’s stacking the score sheet or finding open players. If the Kings decide to double team the star, he definitely will find open players.

Sydney Kings’ Casper Ware has struggled to find his rhythm so far in the playoffs, shooting just 1-14 from the field in his recent performance an area he will be hoping to rectify come Game 2.  But if anyone can turn it around it is Ware who has shown before that he can have an immediate impact with his drive to the basket and pressure. With Ware and Cotton going head-to-head in Game 1 the coaches may look to change up the battle in hope to get the best out of their players in particular Ware who struggled to hit the scoreboard. If the Kings can throw Cotton’s game off with their unpredictability it could set them in good stead to claim victory.

Perth might just come out on top, bearing in mind that 26 of the last 28 Game 1 winners have gone on to win the NBL Championship. This should be Perth’s game to win but the defensive settings placed on Cotton and the headspace of Bogut are decisive factors that could swing in any direction. Take in the fact that Perth only won the first match by two, with Ware shooting seven per cent means this game could really go either way.

Cotton’s 32 stuns Kings, Perth leads GF series 1-0

CLOSE to 12,000 people made their way to Qudos Bank Arena to see the two top teams – Sydney Kings and Perth Wildcats – throughout the regular season, battle it out in Game One of this season’s NBL Finals Series.

It was the Kings that struck first as there would open up the first quarter 7-2, but thanks to the work of their leaders in Nick Kay and league Most Valuable Player (MVP) Bryce Cotton, the Wildcats would only trail by a single basket following 10 minutes of play and an entertaining start to the series.

Good shooting by Sydney’s secondary unit was responsible for their good start in the second period as Daniel Kickert, Didi Louzada and Xavier Cooks were culprits in doing this. But offensively, Perth started to find their stride. Finding their way to the basket across the team, the Wildcats were able to edge themselves in front by a point, off the back of a Kaye layup heading into the break.

The home side composed themselves early on in the second half, stringing together a succession of field goals, including a crown raising one-handed jam by Louzada to put the Kings up by 10 with less than three minutes remaining in the third quarter. However, a massive three-pointer by Terrico White, would cut the Kings’ lead from eight to five with only a couple of seconds remaining, giving the Wildcats a little sniff of hope with the final quarter to come.

With both sides trading buckets, the task of getting his side out from under an efficient shooting Sydney Kings outfit, once again fell to their man. Cotton, who was relatively quiet, turned up the heat significantly, alongside new import big-man Miles Plumlee, as they grinded their way back to a late-game lead. To further add insult to injury, Damian Martin, who had yet to make a single field-goal throughout the entire game, gave his side the lead after knocking down a wing triple.

Despite White’s two missed free throws with 11 seconds remaining, missed three-point attempts to win the game by Shaun Bruce and Casper Ware would give the Wildcats the series lead and shift the focus over to Perth for next Friday.

For the Wildcats, a 32-point, six-rebound and four-assist night is becoming pretty standard for Cotton, as he took out Man of the Match honours by a mile, whereas Kay was the next man up with 14 points, six rebounds and three assists. Plumlee provided substantial numbers too, finishing his night with 10 points and seven rebounds.

While Andrew Bogut made his mark through his four quarters of play (18 points, 12 rebounds), it was Ware that was rather unproductive. Shooting 1-14 and going 0-10 from behind the arc, Ware would finish with five points and four assists, encapsulating one of his worst performances of the season. Nevertheless, three other players would finish in double-digits such as Kevin Lisch (17 points), Jae’Sean Tate (11 points) and Bruce (11 points).

With the Kings set to head to Perth in the coming week, Will Weaver and his staff have some serious tactical meetings ahead as one more loss would put them on the brink of a very anti-climactic end to a somewhat successful season.

2019/20 NBL Grand Final preview: Sydney Kings vs. Perth Wildcats

THE wait is over and after a long 2019/20 National Basketball League (NBL) season, the top two teams are preparing for a do-or-die best-of-five NBL Grand Final series. Sydney Kings hold pole position in the league and will host three of the five games at Qudos Bank Arena, with the remaining two games back at RAC Arena where the Wildcats fans will be keen to see more success.

Indeed the Wildcats have hands-down been the top performing team in the post-season series, having won four of the past six titles and making the two grand finals prior to the first of those four titles. Indeed, Perth’s record over the past four seasons has been superb, and they will be looking to win back-to-back titles with a successful series against Sydney Kings over the next fortnight. The challenge the Wildcats face is that all the titles they have won, they were the top ranked side, and in the two where they headed in the underdog – the 2011/12 and 2012/13 seasons – they lost to New Zealand Breakers. In fact Perth has not won a title fro second spot since 1989/1990 when they defeated Brisbane Bullets, 30 years ago.

It is much better news for Sydney Kings based on those stats with 10 of the past 11 champions winning from top spot. Only New Zealand’s upset of Cairns Taipans in 2014/15 broke the logic. However the two previous losses from top spot was the Kings’ last grand finals back in 2005/06 and 2007/08 where they went down to their rivals, Melbourne Tigers. Prior to the first loss, the Kings had enjoyed an era of success with a three peat from 2002/03 through to 2004/05. Having not reached a grand final in 12 years, Sydney will be hoping to start a new era of success in the NBL, and there is plenty of reasons to believe they can follow through with a title. At home in 2019/20 they are 13-2 and hard to stop, while Perth is 8-7 on the road, and while the the Wildcats are equally hard to quell at home (12-3), the fifth deciding game is in the Harbour City which gives the Kings the advantage.

Analysing the 2019/20 season, the teams have played four times with Perth winning three of those – including Qudos Bank Arena. It means that of the two losses at home for the Kings, one was to the Wildcats when they lost by 13 points back on December 28. In that match, Sydney led by six at half-time before Bryce Cotton went berserk shooting 39 points and leading his team to a 98-85 victory on the back of a 54-35 second half. Casper Ware was also a stat-sheet stuffer with 33 points himself, but had little support with only Andrew Bogut (15 points, 12 rebounds) reaching double figures, while Terrico White (24 points, four rebounds) and Nick Kay (10 points, 10 rebounds) also helped out Cotton. In the most recent game at RAC Arena back on February 1, Perth won the first three quarters to lead by as much as 16 at the final break before the Kings turned it on in the last to cut the final deficit back to 10. Cotton stood tall again with 30 points during the 110-110 win, while Kay (21 points, 10 rebounds) picked up another double-double and Clint Steindl (19 points) was promising off the bench. For the Kings, Jae’Sean Tate was sensational picking up 23 points and 12 rebounds, while Brad Newley was also impressive with 17 points and five rebounds.

In Sydney’s win against the Wildcats back on November 10, it was Ware (23 points, three assists) and Didi Louzada (28 points, six rebounds, two assists and two steals) who let loose, and the bulk of the work at the Wildcats left up to Cotton (36 points, five rebounds and four assists) and Kay (18 points, seven rebounds). The only other match up between the teams came just under a month later on December 6 when Perth won 96-77 back at home at RAC Arena. Cotton again led the way with 27 points, nine rebounds and four assists, while White (20 points, five rebounds) and Kay (19 points, 13 rebounds, two assists and two steals) were dominant across the court. No Kings player really stood out, with Bogut (12 points, eight rebounds) the best, while Tate (11 points, three rebounds) and Ware (13 points, five rebounds) the other two to contribute solidly.

Most Valuable Player (MVP) winner, Cotton has had a huge season, averaging 23.5 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.8 assists and will be the man to stop from the Kings’ perspective. Moving up into the second most important player on the side, Kay has put together a 15-point, eight-rebound and three-assist season, while White (15 points, four rebounds and two assists) has been solid. Miles Plumlee came into the season late but has played the past nine games and averaged 8.7 points and 6.3 rebounds since joining from the NBA. Last year’s MVP in Bogut has not followed on from last season, but still had some ripping games, averaging eight points, nine rebounds, three assists and one block per game. Ware (19.2 points, 2.7 rebounds and 3.9 assists) has been strong since crossing from Melbourne United, while Tate (16/7 points, 5.6 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.1 steals) has been the Kings’ best across the season.

Home vs. Away:

Sydney Kings 13-2 / 8-6
Perth Wildcats 12-3 / 8-7

2019/20 Past meetings:

Perth Wildcats lead Sydney Kings 3-1

Perth Wildcats (110) defeated Sydney Kings (100)
Sydney Kings (85) defeated by Perth Wildcats (98)
Perth Wildcats (96) defeated Sydney Kings (77)
Sydney Kings (104) defeated Perth Wildcats (85)

2019/20 NBL Grand Final fixture:

Game 1: Sunday 8 March at Qudos Bank Arena, 5:00pm AEDT
Game 2: Friday 13 March at RAC Arena, 6:30pm local/9:30pm AEDT
Game 3: Sunday 15 March at Qudos Bank Arena, 5:00pm AEDT
Game 4 (if required): Friday 20 March at RAC Arena, 6:30pm local/9:30pm AEDT
Game 5 (if required) : Sunday 22 March at Qudos Bank Arena, 5:00pm AEDT

Tip: Sydney Kings 3-2.

The series is likely to go the full length given both sides’ dominance at home, though Perth would be keen to cause an early upset in the Harbour City, knowing that the Kings are more vulnerable against the Wildcats there than the Wildcats will be against the Kings at RAC Arena. It is hard to see the Wildcats losing either game in Perth, so it will be up to Sydney to follow through and win the trio of matches at home. Melbourne United pushed them in both matches there, so the Wildcats will come in with confidence.