Tag: Mitch Norton

Perth Wildcats season summary

WITH the National Basketball League (NBL) season done and dusted we take a look at the performance of each team and how they fared in season 2021. The next team under the microscope is Perth Wildcats who had another outstanding season.

SEASON SUMMARY:

Another great season for the Wildcats as they made the Grand Final for the third successive season and the sixth time in Trevor Gleeson’s eight-year reign as coach. Unfortunately, for the now departing Gleeson (who is set for a coaching role in the NBA) they could not overcome Melbourne United, losing 3-0 in the Grand Final Series.

The Wildcats ended the regular season in second position recording 25 wins and 11 losses in what was another consistent season for the club. Luckily (or unluckily) they were able to maintain a healthy roster for most of the season until an end of season blow, which saw reigning MVP Bryce Cotton year prematurely ended after having surgery to relieve pressure from a haematoma in his left quadriceps.

The injury to Cotton ultimately had a big impact with the rest of the squad unable to overcome United. John Mooney and Todd Blanchfield were left to carry a much bigger load come finals, but it was a bridge too far for the pair and their fellow teammates.

HOW IT UNFOLDED:

The Wildcats started the season losing three of their first five games (twice to SEM Phoenix and once to United), before they got back into their winning rhythm with a five-game streak. After a sole loss, the Wildcats then had an even better run, winning nine straight games. In a 17-game stretch around those streaks, they only lost twice.

The semi-final series against Illawarra was going to be intriguing, a top-quality opposition without their star man, however Trevor Gleeson got his team playing some good quality basketball, and they were too strong defeating the Hawks 2-1 in the series.

When they met Melbourne in the final, unfortunately, the loss of Cotton was too big for the class of the first placed Melbourne outfit. The Wildcats lost twice in Perth, by three points in game one, and nine points in game two, before Melbourne won the final game at John Cain Arena 81-76.   

WHAT WORKED WELL:

The combination of Cotton and Mooney this season was fantastic they averaged 23.5 and 17.3 points respectively, while Cotton won the league MVP and led the league in points, it was Mooney who dominated the glass across the NBL (11.4 per game). Both players made the All NBL First Team to cap off a great season. On another individual note, Mitch Norton finished third in the league Defensive Player of the Year Award.

The defence was a strong aspect of the Perth outfit this season, conceding the least points in the league with 2900 for the season (80.6 per game), while they were also ranked fourth in steals (6.3 per game).

Offensively, the team was solid, but not a league leader. They were ranked fifth for points per game (85.3) and were fifth for three pointers made 9.2 per game. From the field they were not great, but they were the league leaders in getting to the free throw line and converting (16.1 per game on 79.7 per cent shooting). They also showed that they were able to create shots for each other with the best assist numbers (18.8 per game) and creating second chance points (11.2 offensive rebounds per game – ranked second). The Wildcats also had the least turnovers out of any team only averaging 10.3 per game.

WHAT WENT WRONG:

As mentioned, the Wildcats did not perform fantastically from the field, they were ranked eighth for field goals made (30.0 per game) and their shooting percentage of 43.4 per cent was also second worst in the NBL. Strangely, they only managed 1.9 blocks per game which was the worst by any team despite conceding the fewest points and having a strong defensive season. Apart from this, there was not a lot that went wrong with the Wildcats season, the Cotton injury was far from ideal, but it was unavoidable.

MVP CONVERSATION:

After winning his third NBL MVP, being selected in the All-NBL First Team for the fourth time and winning the Members MVP (voted by the “Red Army”) for the fourth consecutive season, it would take a brave person to back against Bryce Cotton.

Cotton had another stellar season, but unfortunately missed out on the chance to help his team win the Grand Final Series due to injury. Across 32 games Cotton averaged 23.5 points (up 0.6 compared to last season), 5.7 assists (increase of 1.7 from last season) and 1.5 steals (equal third this season), showing his class on the offensive and defensive ends.

John Mooney was a great asset to Perth this season. The big man was a double-double machine, with his averages of 17.3 points and11.4 rebounds as well as three assists. He shot 55 per cent from the field and was an important part of the teaming making the Grand Final without Cotton in the line-up.

Mooney had a great season but expect Cotton to take home the Gordon Ellis Medal for the fourth straight season.

ROSTER NEWS:

There’s been plenty happening with the team since the Grand Final defeat with Clint Steindl, Jarred Bairstow, Wani Swaka Lo Buluk all departing, alongside Will Magnay who has signed with new franchise Tasmania JackJumpers.

In a big blow for the team, John Mooney has reportedly signed with the Milwaukee Bucks on a Summer League contract after one season in the NBL.

In better news, league MVP Bryce Cotton remains contracted for next season, with Todd Blanchfield and Luke Travers also locked in. Corey Shervill (two years), Majok Majok (two years), Jesse Wagstaff (one year), and Mitch Norton (three years) have all signed new deals with the club that will see them remain in Perth.

As mentioned, Trevor Gleeson is departing the club after eight successful seasons, joining Jacob Chance as departing coaching staff.

LOOKING TOWARDS NEXT SEASON:

With Gleeson departing, the Wildcats will be on the hunt for a new head coach in the next few weeks, but don’t expect the new boss to have any troubles making the playoffs in their first season. This is a club with a rich history and with guys like Cotton, Blanchfield and Norton already on the list, a couple smart additions could make a championship calibre roster very quickly, if it isn’t already one. Expect Perth to be right up there again regardless of who is in charge.

 

Picture credit: AAP

United clinch 2021 NBL championship with a clean sweep

MELBOURNE United are the 2021 National Basketball League (NBL) champions claiming Game 3 in front of a home crowd. Holding top spot for majority of the season, it all came down to whether or not they would get the job done in the big dance and that they did, downing Perth Wildcats by five points (81-76) in an absolute thriller.

After spending 30 days on the road, Melbourne got the chance to play at John Cain Arena and had one thing in mind – to lift the premiership – and that was clear from the opening minutes. Inspired by veteran and United stalwart Chris Goulding, United dug deep to walk away with the chocolates. It was always going to be difficult for the Wildcats who had been dealt their fair share of injuries throughout the series with Most Valuable Player (MVP) Bryce Cotton out of action and Mitch Norton worse for wear. But that return of Luke Travers and Clint Steindl definitely gave the visitors a bit of a pep in their step. However it was not enough to knock United off their perch, imposing themselves in Game 3 much like they did in Game 1 and 2.

The opening quarter started with a bang as Melbourne wasted no time giving their fans plenty to cheer about. An 11 points to two run gifted them a handy lead and the ascendancy, with Goulding finding his stroke from deep nice and early while Mason Peatling got involved in the action. In his first game of the series, Travers showcased how important his inclusion in the Wildcats side was with a couple of early points to keep his side in the hunt. The Wildcats were up to their usual tricks by dominating off the boards picking up 13 rebounds to a mere six but were getting outdone by their opponents when it came to shooting accuracy.

A nine-point differential grew to 10 points as United looked to forge ahead but the Wildcats were not going to let it slip any further as they increased the defensive pressure. Reducing Melbourne’s ability to find their way to the rim, Perth limited their opponents to just five points in over six minutes of play while up the other end they were playing with a wealth of freedom. The Wildcats outscored United 18 to 12, with the likes of Todd Blanchfield having an influence while unfortunately it was curtains for Norton who was forced to the sideline with his continuing hip injury.

When the second half rolled around, only three points separated the two sides with the game looking like it could go either way. United fans hearts dropped when Perth hit the lead thanks to a couple of handy threes from Kevin White and Corey Shervill but the home side were not about to let it slip through their fingers. They rallied with a seven point run to steal the lead back as Scotty Hopson bobbed up alongside Jock Landale and Goulding.

With only quarter left to play it all came down to this. Yudai Baba decided it was his time to have a say draining five points as he pushed his side out to an 11-point margin. But in true Wildcats style they fought back going on a points scoring spree of their own to take things up a notch and make United sweat. John Mooney kept Perth alive with the big man having an influence up both ends of the court while a couple of the veterans for both sides plied their trade. It was a heart in your mouth final minute of play with Blanchfield sending the crowd into raptures after landing a triple to shrink the margin to just three points. But it was Landale that made his mark draining a huge jump shot followed by the icing on the cake from Baba to reign victorious and grant United their second premiership in four years.

It was a game to remember for Landale who not only landed the most crucial shot of the game with less than 40 seconds left on the clock to seal the deal for the home side, but so too walked away with the Larry Sengstock Medal as the Grand Final MVP for his efforts. Landale collected 15 points, nine rebounds, two steals and two blocks in his outing. He alongside Goulding were in hot form throughout the clash as they continued to step up to the plate and deliver. Goulding registered 14 points, four rebounds and two assists. But it was not just a two-man show as a host of other players plied their trade and got the job done for United in a tantalising battle as Peatling showcased his class with 12 points at 83 per cent from the field while Hopson also scored 12 points and picked up three assists. Mitch McCarron was influential off the boards thanks to his seven defensive rebounds as Baba finished with 11 points to his name.

For the Wildcats it was Mooney who was once again the main player in focus recording 14 points and a whopping 13 rebounds for his efforts. White also chimed in with 14 points of his own at 41 per cent from the field as Blanchfield registered a double-double credit to his 11 points and 11 rebounds in an all-round solid performance. On return, Travers was consistent sinking nine points and picking up six rebounds, two assists and a steal while Will Magnay tried hard with his 10 points.

Photo credit: Melbourne United Twitter

NBL 2021: Grand Final series – Stats analysis

ONLY days away from Game 3 of the Grand Final series and both Melbourne United and Perth Wildcats are preparing for an epic battle. In this analysis we will break down the statistics from Game 1 and Game 2 and analyse what each side needs to do if they are to claim Game 3.

Game 1 StatS:

Perth Wildcats were so close to getting the chocolates in Game 1 but fell short by three points as Melbourne United kickstarted their premiership tilt. The game was incredibly close on the scoreboard and the statistics mirrored that with not much separating the two sides in the end. Melbourne shot marginally better from the field with a 40 per cent conversion rate thanks to their 30 shots from 75 attempts in comparison to Perth’s 39 per cent. They also had the upper hand when it came to scoring from within the arc boasting a 50 per cent strike rate while the Wildcats sat at 42 per cent. But the tables turned when it came to letting go from long range as Perth imposed themselves with a 36 per cent clip as opposed to Melbourne’s 27 per cent, despite both sides nailing nine triples apiece.

United recorded two more intercepts than their opponents in Game 1 with 42 to their name in comparison to 40 while they also had more assists than Perth (17-13). Perth had their moments in defence collecting seven steals to six but their sloppy hands and costly turnovers came back to bite them as the home side coughed up the ball 17 times, while United treasured possession with just 12 turnovers across the board.

In terms of blocks, Melbourne made use of their bigmen racking up five while Perth only managed two but they gave away a couple of unnecessary fouls finishing with 17 to their name in comparison to Perth’s tidy 13. United imposed themselves in close with a whopping 40 of their 73 points coming from in the paint. Their ability to compete and convert was a key reason for their success as they kept the Wildcats to just 26 points. They also impressed when it came to second chance points slotting 13 to six and also flexed their bench depth with 23 points in comparison to 18.

Game 2 Stats:

Shooting percentage seemed to be a major issue for Perth Wildcats in Game 2 only converting at a mere 36 per cent from the field. On the flip-side, Melbourne United imposed themselves sitting at 45 per cent from the field sinking 26 shots out of the 57 attempts. United also held the upper hand specifically looking at two point accuracy albeit marginally with a 47 per cent clip compared to Perth’s 43. Another key shooting difference came in United’s ability to seal the deal from down town converting 10 of their 23 attempts to sit at 43 per cent while it was a very different story for Perth who struggled to find their range with six from 25.

When Perth did get hand to ball they managed to shoot nice and close to the rim, outscoring United when it came to points in the paint with 28 to 22 and also impressed with their second chance points with 15 to eight. Their never-say-die attitude and hustle was a key feature throughout Game 2 as they worked in overdrive to find avenues to the basket credit to Melbourne’s defence. One of the most significant and damaging statistics to come out of the game however was United’s ability to score off the bench. The visitors racked up a whopping 41 bench points while Perth only managed to slot a mere 16 highlighting the stark difference between the two sides and ultimately giving United the upper hand.

Perth narrowly edged out United when it came to rebounds amassing 40 in comparison to Melbourne’s 39, showcasing their ability to contest off the ring while they also had less turnovers (10-11). United impressed with their ball smarts to control proceedings with 17 assists to 13 while their defensive pressure was also obvious as shown through their five steals and four blocks as Perth only managed three and two respectively.

What needs to happen?

The top of the table United are one win away from claiming the ultimate glory and have the opportunity to do so in front of a home crowd. United have won all four games this season at RAC Arena but have been somewhat inconsistent at home against Perth so will be hoping for a big performance. Melbourne have been on the road for a long time now, notching up their 30th day away from home but that has not stopped them from racking up the wins securing eight victories from 10 appearances. Conversely, Perth Wildcats have really struggled to find their form and hit the scoreboard. Having dropped the first two games of the series, the back-to-back premiers will be hoping to dig into their big bag of tricks and find a way to win to push it to Game 4.

Spearheaded by coach Dean Vickerman, United have a wealth of depth at their disposal and will be hoping to exploit that in this match-up. Chris Goulding and Jock Landale will once again be the main focus for the side given their explosive nature both in offence and defence. The bench depth is an area with which United have the upper hand and that has shown in both performances so far this series with the likes of Scotty Hopson, Shea Ili and Jo Lual-Acuil – if available after going down with injury in Game 2 – will be hoping to replicate.

Plagued by injury with MVP Bryce Cotton out of action, Luke Travers missing and Clint Steindl out with a groin complaint, the Wildcats are somewhat the walking wounding while Mitch Norton has hobbled through the past two games. If the Wildcats are to muster up something extraordinary they will need breakout performances from their main two facilitators in Todd Blanchfield and John Mooney. The duo are more than capable of imposing themselves and racking up both the rebounds and points which they will need to do to get Perth over the line.

Photo credit: Paul Kane

2021 NBL Grand Final preview: Game 3

THE National Basketball League (NBL) Grand Final series moves to Melbourne for Game 3 with Melbourne United looking to seal the deal against Perth Wildcats in front of a home crowd. Having played the first two games at RAC Arena the ease in COVID-19 restrictions has allowed play to transition to Victoria on Friday night with the game set to be an absolute blockbuster.

Melbourne United are sitting pretty with two wins under their belts and are one win away from securing the coveted premiership. It has been a rollercoaster series so far with Perth getting out to early leads in both games but United showcasing their class and grit to grind down the Wildcats and win. Unfortunately Perth have been struck down with a wealth of injuries with Bryce Cotton yet to take the court due to his injury, Luke Travers and Clint Steindl were both sidelined in Game 2, while sparks flew around the fitness of Mitch Norton who appeared to tweak something. Perth will once again be tested for depth in Game 3 while United are going along swimmingly on the injury front with the only concern Jo Lual-Acuil who left the court.

Scoring is proving to be a real issue for the Wildcats who have been unable to hit the 80-point mark in their past seven encounters. Meanwhile United have showcased their firepower and dominance from long range to keep the Wildcats out of the game. Momentum will be a focal point in this clash with United expected to come in with a head full of steam. But one thing that cannot be discounted is Perth’s ability to do the unthinkable. The two-time premiers have an uncanny ability to whip something up out of nothing and will need to be at their damaging best if they are to keep their slim premiership hopes alive.

United will be hoping to shut down Todd Blanchfield once again and really put the clamps on the forward like they did in Game 2. Blanchfield was an excitement machine in Game 1 but failed to have the same impact second time around but does not often have two quiet games. John Mooney is another player for the Wildcats that can turn a game in the blink of an eye given he averages 17 points and 11.4 rebounds but has not reached those heights so far this series. Kevin White and Will Magnay will have to up the ante if they are to upset United and apply some real scoreboard pressure.

Looking at United and the home side will have plenty of pep in their step when they host Perth on Friday. Chris Goulding found his stroke from beyond the arc in Game 2 and if he continues on that trajectory it could spell trouble for the Wildcats. It is a two-pronged attack for United with Goulding and Jock Landale able to hit the scoreboard with great ease. the pair have quickly become a commanding force with Landale both a threat off the boards and on the points scoring front thanks to his average of 16.5 points and 7.8 rebounds. But it is the support from their bench players that gives United a real edge with Yudai Baba having a blistering performance in Game 2 and Scotty Hopson and Mitch McCarron able to inflict scoreboard pain in a short amount of time.

Photo credit: Will Russell

United make it two from two away from home

MELBOURNE United are one step away from claiming the ultimate prize toppling Perth Wildcats in Game 2 of the Grand Final series (83-74).  Backing up their performance from only days earlier, United got the job done at RAC Arena digging deep in the second half.

It was a blistering first term of basketball from Perth as the home side charged out of the blocks with a real point to prove. Only going down by three points in Game 1 it looked as if the Wildcats were out for vengeance nice and early despite missing the likes of Bryce Cotton, Clint Steindl and Luke Travers. It was always going to be hard to find scoring avenues but the Wildcats did not have that issue in the opening term as John Mooney and Will Magnay inserted themselves in the contest. United would not give in though as Chris Goulding picked up where he left off, finding his stroke from down-town alongside Jock Landale. But Perth were relentless piling on eight points straight and continued to attack the rim as Kevin White replaced Mitch Norton who was struggling with an injury he sustained in Game 1. By quarter time the Wildcats had established a handy 10-point lead to put them in good stead for the match.

Disappointed with their efforts in the first term United came out with a much more spirited performance to start the second, pegging away at the deficit thanks to eight straight points as Jo Lual-Acuil found his groove. It was not until Yudai Baba drained a three-pointer that United hit the front. But the twists and turns continued as the lead changed hands once again as Perth went on a handy nine point scoring spree to quash United’s momentum. With the clock ticking down to half time, Baba had other ideas as he landed one from three-point range before bringing the house down with a half-court shot on the buzzer to level the scores at 42 apiece.

With neither side really able to assert themselves on the contest it was United’s time to shine and that they did. Goulding showcased his leadership and grit to spur his side on as they rallied, adding nine consecutive points to establish a handy lead. but Goulding proved costly on the foul front notching up his fourth for the evening and subsequently pushing him to the bench. Credit to Melbourne’s defence the Wildcats were unable to find any easy avenue to the basket as Mooney was shut down and Todd Blanchfield struggled to have the same impact he did in Game 1. United controlled majority of the term despite a couple of late points from White and Magnay to get the three quarter time buffer to five points.

It was all coming down to the final quarter with United looking to close out the game and the Wildcats hoping to do the unthinkable and flip the script to notch up a win. But that was not to be, as Melbourne got busy in the first couple of minutes with Scotty Hopson opening the account with a jump shot to set the wheels in motion. Goulding was re-injected back into the action with the captain impressing with his dominance from beyond the arc . Things just continued to steadily tick along for United as their class and depth shone through against a depleted Perth outfit.

Mooney was the main playmaker for the Wildcats producing 17 points and nine rebounds while Blanchfield was down on his Game 1 efforts finishing with 13 points and eight rebounds. Norton managed 12 points in his 27 minutes while White also chimed in with a handy 12 points and two rebounds. There were a few more contributors for the victors but once again it was Goulding that led the way sinking 21 points at 50 per cent from the field. His dominance from three-point range was a standout draining four shots from seven attempts. Landale racked up a double-double thanks to his 12 points and 17 rebounds, 15 of which were defensive while Baba had a game to remember sinking 15 points and four rebounds. Lual-Acuil was the only other player to reach double figures with 10 points as Hopson walked away with nine points to his name.

Game 3 will be played at John Cain Arena as Melbourne United look to seal the deal with a win and secure the coveted premiership. But it will not be easy given Perth are back-to-back champions for a reason and will be eager to make amends for their shortcomings.

Photo credit: AAP

United claim upper hand in Game 1

MELBOURNE United scraped home to snatch a narrow three point victory in Game 1 of the Grand Final series against a depleted Perth Wildcats (73-70). It was a hard slog with neither side willing to give an inch as the lead chopped and changed throughout the contest.

In front of a packed RAC Arena the home side was hoping to kick things off with a bang but were hit hard by injury before the game even started with three time MVP Bryce Cotton still out of action and Luke Travers unable to take the court with calf soreness. United were on the money early with captain, Chris Goulding inspiring the side before Mason Peatling contributed to the scoreboard. But the Wildcats were not about to lie down as the cogs started to tick over as Travers’ replacement in Clint Steindl converted his free-throws and Mitch Norton found his way to the rim. Perth continued this momentum to end the term with a nine point to three run creating a narrow one point lead at the break 19-18.

Looking to capitalise on their dominant end to the term Wani Swaka Lo Buluk nailed consecutive shots to push the margin out to three points before both Todd Blanchfield and John Mooney got involved in the action for Perth.  The lead ballooned out to as much as seven points as the Wildcats shut down United’s drive to the basket through their defensive efforts. It was a high intensity final three minutes of basketball in the second quarter as both sides traded blows in hope to gain the upper hand and a last second triple from none other than Goulding was exactly what the side needed heading into the main break.

Only four points separated the two sides at half time and United were eager to eat into that deficit from the opening minutes of the third quarter. With Steindl out of the game for Perth and Melbourne still at full capacity the visitors made use of their bench depth. With less than nine minutes left on the clock United levelled the scores at 35 points apiece but that was short lived as Perth hit back to forge ahead. But the twists and turns continued as Jock Landale came to life in the third with the star recruit imposing himself in every way he could while Goulding was at his damaging best from beyond the arc. United did not look like relenting with the momentum well and truly favouring them as veteran David Barlow showed some spark with a handy triple as Melbourne started to assert themselves. As the clock ticked down to the final change the visitors held a four point lead thanks to a 29 point to 18 term.

With it all to play for in the final term United were in the box seat and while the boisterous crowd were trying their hard to spur the Wildcats on it was not enough. Blanchfield was monumental for the Wildcats but it was the likes of Landale and Goulding that were doing a wealth of damage as they continued their merry way for United. In fact the lead skipped out to as much as 10 points midway through the quarter thanks to a hookshot from Jo Lual-Acuil. But as the quarter went on the spirit and fight of Wildcats came to the fore as they dwindled the margin back to three but fell short of victory with a potential to Norton also at the forefront of Perth’s mind.

Blanchfield was a consistent figure for the Wildcats topscoring with a whopping 27 points and seven rebounds all of which were defensive. Kevin White chimed in with a handy 10 points and five rebounds coming off the bench while Mooney was down on his productivity only registering eight points, seven rebounds and four steals. For United, Goulding was running hot sinking 23 points along with three rebounds and two steals. Landale was also proficient thanks to his 17 points at 43 per cent from the field plus his seven rebounds, two steals and two blocks. Mitch McCarron had an influence off the boards reeling in 11 rebounds and also managed six points while Lual-Acuil finished the game with 10 points and seven rebounds to his name.

Photo credit: Paul Kane

First half blitz sees order restored, Wildcats back in the Grand Final

IT was a feat that no matter how much you took away from Perth Wildcats – a star player down and out, a one-game deficit – the reigning back-to-back champions were always going to find a away. Trevor Gleeson‘s team just refused to give in, and it showed during the Wildcats’ defining third game to put away a brave Illawarra Hawks in the National Basketball League (NBL) Semi-Finals Series.

The Wildcats lost the opening game at home, found a way to win on the road, then delivered the knockout blow back at RAC Arena, doing what they failed to do in the first game, and really putting last year’s wooden spooners to the sword early. A first half blitz, a dominant John Mooney close to the basket collecting everything, and a resurgent Todd Blanchfield showing his former side the exit door all led to the Wildcats’ eight-point win to secure yet another Grand Final Series spot.

In even better news, the Wildcats will get to play their two allocated home games up first against the winner of either Victorian side Melbourne United or South East Melbourne Phoenix, which if they can win already gives them a head start before needing to hit the road. Border restrictions have certainly played a huge part, but everything is aligning for an against-the-odds Wildcats title again.

From the opening tip-off it appeared both sides seemed to be comfortable in the do-or-die semi-final, as Illawarra Hawks got out to a five-point advantage midway through the term. It would not only prove to be their largest lead of the match, but once they surrendered it, the Hawks would never get it back. Instead, the Wildcats took control in the second half of the term to win the quarter 23-15, and by half-time that lead had grown to 46-32 and the writing was on the wall.

Brian Goorjian‘s Hawks were a different breed to the dismal outfit of 2019/20, so they threw down the gauntlet to the Wildcats in the third term, restricting the home side to just nine points, winning the quarter by 10 and cutting the final break deficit to just four – it was game on. When Tyler Harvey nailed the first triple of the last stanza, the Hawks were within a point (55-54), but that only spurred the Wildcats on, going up a gear that perhaps only they have, piling on 11 straight points to suddenly hold a 12-point advantage (66-54) with 6:31 on the clock. Whilst the Hawks were able to cut the deficit back – even reducing it to four points late in the game, it was that burst that proved the difference in the 79-71 result.

Perth won the rebounds (41-34), assists (16-11) and shot at a marginally higher clip (40 to 39 per cent), as well as scored more from turnovers (20-19) despite having more turnovers (15-12). The Hawks held their own with more blocks (7-2), second chance points (11-8) and bench points (21-17), but in the end it would not be enough, and their shooting percentage, particularly from long-range (29 per cent) and from the free-throw line (72 per cent) hurt.

Mooney finished with 16 points and 15 rebounds – 13 defensive – as well as two assists, while Blanchfield shot 24 points – four of 11 from long-range – five rebounds, three steals and two assists in a strong partnership. Mitch Norton (15 points, four rebounds, two assists and two steals) was the other double-digit scorer, while Clint Steindl (eight points, two assists), Luke Travers (seven points, six rebounds, four assists and two steals) and Jesse Wagstaff (six points, four rebounds) also did well.

For the Hawks, Harvey had the 10 points, two rebounds and two assists, with Sam Froling (14 points, eight rebounds and four blocks) being huge on defence and Justin Simon (nine points, 11 rebounds – five offensive – and four assists) a menace at both ends. Daniel Grida (nine points, three rebounds and two steals) and Justinian Jessup (eight points, three rebounds, three steals and two blocks) also contributed in an even starting five.

Perth Wildcats will host the winner of the other Semi-Finals Series on Friday night, followed by Game Two on Sunday night, as the remainder of the fixture is yet to be decided pending border restrictions.

Picture credit: Paul Kane / Getty Images

United take out minor premiership

MELBOURNE United secured top spot on the National Basketball League (NBL) ladder with a win over rivals Perth Wildcats (78-64). The win gifts United the privileges of a home court advantage but will hoping that fans are allowed into the stadium given the current COVID-19 restrictions in Victoria. Nevertheless first place has long been Melbourne’s this season and this victory sealed the deal.

Although Perth were without two of their key contributors in Bryce Cotton and Mitch Norton that should not discount the magnitude of the win, with confidence key heading into finals. the loss marks Perth’s second straight loss while United managed their second win in a row to go with a full head of steam heading into the playoffs.

The Wildcats came out with a point to prove nailing the first five points of the game. The experienced head of Todd Blanchfield stepped up to the plate early, applying some strong scoreboard pressure. But that is where is stopped as the visitors upped the ante in both offence and defence to stop the Wildcats in their tracks and go on the attack themselves. The bench players in Yudai Baba and David Barlow were able to make their presence felt from down town landing a couple of handy threes. But the most impressive rally was when United piled on 10 points straight to round out the term as Jo Lual-Acuil carried the weight of the world on his shoulders credit to his six points. United established a commanding 12 point lead by the end of the first quarter and did not look like giving it up.

But the class of the Wildcats started to come to the fore as the reigning premiers proved they were not going to go down without a fight. Clint Steindl lent a hand in attack sinking a triple while Blanchfield also continued to do damage from beyond the arc. With their tails well and truly up the Wildcats were able to plug away at the margin using their smarts and skill to go on a points scoring spree of their own. Nailing six points straight to close out the term Perth were able to reduce the deficit to just seven points and give them a fighting chance heading into the second half.

The third term tightened up with both sides still trying to assert their dominance. However it was United that still had the upper hand as Sam McDaniel and Jock Landale played their part in keeping their sides noses in-front. After a quiet start to the game, Chris Goulding finally got his time to shine landing his first points of the game but the spirit of the Wildcats was still profound. Blanchfield and Jesse Wagstaff finished the term with a hot hand as the duo worked in overdrive to cull the margin to eight at the final change.

With the game on the line it was United that controlled proceedings, digging deep to keep the game on their terms and secure the win. The key figures inBarlow and Landale chimed in at the right time for United to keep Perth at bay and win the game by 14-points.

The contest between Landale and John Mooney was enthralling with the two barometers for their respective sides going head to head. However it is fair to say that Landale had the upper hand and was a key reason for United’s success as he produced 14 points and five rebounds. Lual-Acuil led all-comers with his 16 points and two assists off the bench while Mitch McCarron also had a point to prove draining 11 points and picking up six rebounds and five assists in the win. Goulding was down on his productivity recording six points and four rebounds as Barlow got busy in his 20  minutes on court with nine points and four rebounds to his name. Blanchfield was the most dominant scorer for the Wildcats finishing with 15 points at 35 per cent from the field. Luke Travers was a handy option for Perth recording 10 points and eight rebounds while Will Magnay also sunk 10 points and collected two rebounds and two assists.

Photo credit: Paul Kane

2021 NBL Round 21 preview: Top four battles headline the final round of home and away season

THE final round of the National Basketball League gets underway tonight in a top of the table clash between Illawarra Hawks and Perth Wildcats. That will not be the only top four clash as United and Perth go head to head in what is set to be a ladder-defining clash.

Illawarra Hawks vs. Perth Wildcats
Tuesday, June 1 @ 7:30pm

It is set to be a cracking game as the third placed Hawks take on the second placed Wildcats who are on the same wins as United and are looking for their way to come out on top. They will be eager to topple Illawarra and if they can manage to string together a dominant four quarter performance will take top spot -albeit momentarily until United take the court.

The combination of Tyler Harvey and Justinian Jessup will have to be at its damaging best when Illawarra take on Perth. Both Jessup and Harvey are renowned for their ability to keep the scoreboard taking over but will need additional support from the likes of Sam Froling, Cameron Bairstow and Justin Simon. Harvey averages 20.24 points a game while Jessup is also a handy feature with 13.39 points a game. Looking at the Wildcats and it is hard to go past Bryce Cotton who has been in scintillating form. The guard can simply do no wrong with his ability to sink the match winner time and time again. He averages 23.47 points while teammate John Mooney is a real livewire putting up impressive numbers both on the scoreboard and on the rebounding front thanks to his 17.74 points and 11.47 rebounds. It would be remiss not to mention the likes of Todd Blanchfield and Mitch Norton with the duo able to have an influence in defence and offence

New Zealand Breakers vs. Cairns Taipans
Wednesday, June 2 @5:30pm

The bottom of the table battle will be a hot one as the Breakers have found some form at home with the home crowd really spurring them on to grind out games. New Zealand are on the hunt for their 12th win of the season, while the Taipans have shown strong glimpses but faded in times of need. It is not possible for Cairns to work their way off the bottom of the ladder but will be eager to take some positives out of the end of their season.

Scott Machado is the main facilitator for the Taipans and will need to be at his damaging best if his side are any chance of causing an upset. Machado boasts an average of 15.61 points and 6.97 assists a game bringing the likes of Mirko Djeric and Jordan Ngatai into the game. Djeric might only average 8.47 points and 2.25 rebounds but his presence out on court is key.  The Breakers have no shortage of excitement machines with Levi Randolph a key addition to the side since joining. He averages 15.85 points and 3.77 rebounds a game playing a strong role alongside the likes of Tai Webster and Finn Delany. Webster tops the table with 16.63 points a game while Delany is not far behind credit to his average of 16.35 points and 6.62 rebounds. Another key addition to the side has been William McDowell-White who has not skipped a beat and will be eager to keep putting his best foot forward in this performance against the last placed Taipans.

South East Melbourne Phoenix vs. Brisbane Bullets
Wednesday, June 2 @7:30pm

To put it plain and simple, South East Melbourne Phoenix need to win if they want to hold onto fourth spot. Currently just holding on by a thread, the Phoenix will be hoping that their big three in Mitch Creek, Keifer Sykes and Ryan Broekhoff are able to stand up to the challenge and make their dreams a reality. On the other hand the Bullets are not far off the pace sitting outside the top four by two games and will have three opportunities including this match to edge inside and make a play for finals. however they will need a host of results to go their way including a win here.

Creek is a real playmaker for the Phoenix with his ability to hit the scoreboard and lend a hand in defence as shown through his 18.06 points and 6.45 rebounds. Sykes is another piece of the puzzle that will have to be on his a-game given he averages 13.67 points and 5.33 assists each time he steps out on court. Kyle Adnam has quickly become a fan favourite, making the step up this season and asserting himself credit to his 12.61 points and will want to ply his trade in this match-up against the Bullets. Throw in support from the likes of Yannick Wetzell and Ben Moore and the Phoenix are in good shape. But Brisbane are not backwards in coming forwards with Nathan Sobey an integral member in the side. The captain is never out of the contest averaging 21.34 points a game plus 4.47 rebounds and 4.56 assists often leading his troops to success. Lamar Patterson has landed on his feet since re-joining the Bullets with the bigman posting numbers of 13.62 points and 4.54 rebounds while Matthew Hodgson and Anthony Drmic are other players the Phoenix will need to keep an eye on throughout the clash.

Illawarra Hawks vs. Sydney Kings
Thursday, June 3 @7:30pm

This game will bring plenty of excitement and nerves for players and fans alike as the Hawks take on the Kings at home. The Sydney Kings are renowned for their class and ability to do the unthinkable and will need to recapture that form this match. outside of the top four by one game, expect the Kings to leave no stone unturned and apply some real heat on the teams around them.

The Hawks will be backing up from their earlier performance with Jessup and Harvey hoping to keep the good times rolling. But the Hawks will have their work cut out for them given the Kings boast the services of dynamo Casper Ware. Throw in the likes of Jarell Martin and the Kings have a dominant two-pronged attack with Ware averaging 18 points and Martin with 17.35. Xavier Cooks has been lively since returning to the fold and will be hoping to continue on that trajectory while Jordan Hunter and Craig Moller are other viable options to attack the rim or reel in the boards.

Melbourne United vs. Adelaide 36ers
Sunday, June 6 @3:00pm

Melbourne will take to the court for the second time this round and with pole position still up for grabs will need to put out a consistent four quarter performance to topple the 36ers. But Adelaide will be hoping to end their season on a high and still have an influence on how the finals go down by causing a major upset.

Adelaide have had an inconsistent season to say the least and have been plagued by injury but have a number of players able to step up and take charge. Daniel Johnson has been a mainstay for the 36ers producing impressive numbers credit to his 19.51 points and 6.97 rebounds while Brandon Paul has been a commanding force thanks to his 13.68 points. Isaac Humphries is steadily returning to form after his time on the sidelines with injury while Tony Crocker will have to be on top of his game to worry United.

Other games:

Perth Wildcats vs. Melbourne United
Friday, June 4 @9:30pm

One of just many mouth-watering clashes this round, the match-up between Melbourne United and Perth Wildcats is sure to go down to the wire. Melbourne will be praying that fatigue becomes a factor as Perth enter their second top four clash in as many days, while the home side will be fresh and raring to go. Expect both sides to throw everything they have at their opponents and contest every second of the game in what is set to be an absolute show stopper and potential grand final preview.

New Zealand Breakers vs. South East Melbourne Phoenix
Saturday, June 5 @5:30pm

Both sides will be competing in their second game for the round and all eyes will turn to the Phoenix and what they can do? Whether they can front up after a game earlier in the week against the Bullets. Although the Breakers are significantly lower on the ladder they have shown they have the class and skill to compete with the best in the business meaning the Phoenix will need to be on their a-game.

Sydney Kings vs. Brisbane Bullets
Saturday, June 5 @8:00pm

It is a must win game for the Kings. In fact it all hinges on whether or not they secure the “w” because if they do not then their finals aspirations are well and truly done. The Bullets also need a win and while their chances may be a long shot it will not deter them from hustling hard. It will be a heart in your mouth style of game with both teams eager to make a last minute dash and prove themselves on the competition. The Bullets will have to front up to another game only days later and will be hoping that a win will spur them on to clinch that fourth spot.

Brisbane Bullets vs. South East Melbourne Phoenix
Tuesday, June 8 @7:30pm

The final game of the home and away season pits Brisbane Bullets against South East Phoenix. It will be the Phoenix’s third game of the round and while fatigue may be somewhat of an issue you can guarantee that their main focus will be winning and holding onto their top four position.

Photo credit: Daniel Pockett

Bullets steal win from Wildcats thanks to some Lamar Patterson magic

The Brisbane Bullets did the unthinkable against Perth Wildcats last night with the home side coming back from as much as a  whopping 18 point deficit to steal the win right from underneath Perth’s nose, 91-88. It was a one man show with Lamar Patterson proving his worth and finding his stride back in the Bullets outfit as the bigman completed the final play of the night to give his side are much needed victory in order to stay in the race for finals which is quickly approaching.

It was not all smooth sailing though for the Bullets with Perth bursting out of the gates in the opening quarter of play with Will Magnay, the former Bullets player flexing his muscles for his new side. Magnay was not backwards in coming forwards showcasing his strength around the rim while his teammates also got involved in the action to gift Perth a handy buffer heading into quarter time. Magnay was not alone on the points scoring front as Clint Steindl capitalised on his extra court time and kept the scoreboard effectively ticking over for the visitors. The Bullets simply could not keep up and despite the best efforts of both BJ Johnson and Jason Cadee from beyond the arc to peg back the margin, within a blink of an eye the lead had been blown out once again as Perth boasted a 14 point lead.

Brisbane needed to find a spark in the second quarter and they did just that as they went on a point scoring spree of 11 to 3 to call the margin back to single digits. But every time Brisbane got close, Perth found a way to work their magic and extend the lead once more. After a scintillating first quarter of basketball, Steindl did not slow down as he took his total to 19 points for the first half spurring the Wildcats on away from home. However the main issue for the Bullets was their inability to capitalise on turnovers and not treasuring ball racking up 19 turnovers in the opening half alone.

The third quarter is known as the premiership term for a reason and if the time was now, Brisbane knew it. They came out of half time with a real pep in their step as they drained nine consecutive points thanks to the efforts of Nathan Sobey and Patterson. With the Bullets mounting a comeback, it did not take long for Matt Hodgson to inject himself into the game sinking a handy lay-up to get back within seven points before he single-handedly culled the margin to a mere four points. The intensity continued to rise, keeping in mind there was still a quarter left to play as Perth pulled away once again off the hands of none other than Steindl. By the time the three-quarter time buzzer came around Perth held an eight-point lead but were in for a challenging final term.

A challenging final term is exactly what the second placed side got. With Bryce Cotton struggling to find the rock and Todd Blanchfield rested it was up to John Mooney to lead the troops. While he did for majority of the game, the Bullets dug deep, determined not to let their finals hopes slip through their fingers as Sobey and Cadee showed their leadership and class for the Bullets. Tensions boiled over with Magnay on the receiving end of a spray from his former teammates while Mitch Norton was fouled out of the game for Perth as things got a bit out of hand given the frantic finish to the game. Brisbane could sense a win and as the clock ticked down Cadee landed a game-defining triple. Going on an 11-point shooting spree, the Bullets dwindled the deficit to a mere two points before Patterson put the icing on the cake with mere seconds left on the clock.

It was a match for the ages, as each and every one of the fans in the arena sat with bated breath as the Bullets pulled off an almighty comeback. Patterson was the mastermind behind his sides resurgence sinking a team-high 23 points. Hodgson was also influential thanks to his double-double of 16 points and 12 rebounds as Johnson had his best game since joining the squad producing 13 points at 66 per cent from the field. Both Sobey and Cadee played their role with 16 points each as the latter also racked up five assists. Mooney was the go-to player for the Wildcats as he finished with 18 points and seven rebounds as partner in crime, Cotton, was down on his lofty standards only collecting 20 points and seven rebounds. Steindl had a game to remember drilling home 25 points  as Magnay also notched up 11 points.

Photo credit: AAP