By Paulo Kennedy, Pagemasters
Tip-off: Sunday, April 7, 4pm (local), Vector Arena, Auckland
TV: Sky Sports, 4pm (New Zealand); ONE (12pm in WA, 2pm elsewhere); NBL.TV
Radio: Radio Sport NZ; Sonshine FM; ABC Grandstand
Last time they met: Perth 73 (Lisch 24, Redhage 14, Wagstaff 13) d New Zealand 58 (Webster 18, Vukona 11), Round 24, Perth Arena
When asked the keys to winning Game 1 of the NBL Grand Final Kevin Lisch gave a predictable response.
“It starts with rebounding and winning the possession game,” he said.
The issue for Perth is the man who secures more extra possessions for his team than any other player in the league, Damian Martin, will be watching instead of doing his usual Mr Everywhere impersonation.
“That’s going to be really tough,” Lisch admitted, adding it would take every member of the Wildcats going up a gear to cover Martin’s immense contribution.
While Perth has the players to cover the rebounding numbers - an area they have traditionally trumped the Breakers - turning boards or turnovers into fastbreaks and flowing offensive sets is Martin’s specialty.
Lisch believes the entire squad “needs to be more assertive” to keep the game at the Wildcats’ preferred speed, but also thinks sharp halfcourt execution can help replace the easy baskets their injured point guard creates.
“Our spacing and ball movement are a key,” he said.
“Having an inside presence - whether that’s penetrating or getting the ball inside to Matty (Knight) - getting to the free-throw line, all those little things you hear about all the time, they are really going to help us.”
Lisch’s biggest message to his teammates is don’t let up for a second or New Zealand will skip out of sight.
“You can see with Sydney in their last game, if you have mental lapses for a minute they will absolutely kill you.”
And the 2012 MVP understands exactly what beating the Breakers means to the supporters in Perth.
“Anytime the Wildcats are in the finals the fans are excited, but especially now with this rivalry with New Zealand they're even more excited.”
The team that leads the team control statistic (offensive rebounds + steals - turnovers) has won eight of the past 10 games between these teams.
The Breakers are 5-1 against Perth when the above equation is positive, but 0-4 when it isn't. New Zealand haven’t kept the Wildcats to a negative team control total in the past three seasons.
Perth average plus-nine in this category in 2012/13 but Martin is responsible for 2.7 of those a game – clearly best in the NBL. The Breakers average plus-8.6.
Lisch averaged five assists a game in the semi-finals. When he hands out three dimes or more this season the Wildcats are 15-2.
Lisch has averaged 19.3 points a game against the Breakers in the past two seasons.
As a Breaker, CJ Bruton has averaged 15.3 points at 45 per cent from long range in playoff games against Perth.
Martin’s injury has opened a door for the Breakers, particularly in the possession game, but you can bet the Wildcats have been working feverishly all week to close it.
While Perth lose significantly in the areas of rebounding, defence and playmaking with their point guard down, back-up Rhys Carter is a capable player who the defence respects on the perimeter.
If this creates room for Knight, the Wildcats may be able to establish more of an inside-out game than previously against New Zealand.
For the Breakers it will be business as usual and at home, business has been excellent since the rude awakening from Perth in Round 1.
Unless the Wildcats can produce one of their red-hot shooting nights that home-court advantage should prove the difference in a game that will be decided by effort in the possession areas.
Prediction: Breakers by 3