By Paulo Kennedy, Pagemasters
The Perth Wildcats charged from nine points down in the third quarter to stun the Melbourne Tigers 83-79 in Melbourne on Sunday.
After three tense quarters the game turned into a remarkable shoot-out in the final term and Perth’s perimeter barrage proved too much for the brilliance of Jonny Flynn.
The Tigers’ point guard knifed repeatedly into the lane to create scores for himself or teammates, but Rhys Carter, Jesse Wagstaff, Everard Bartlett, Shawn Redhage and Kevin Lisch all hit three-pointers in the final term to deliver Perth a nail-biting win.
"I am thrilled, because they are a damn good team," Perth coach Rob Beveridge said.
"This was a great rehearsal of what we can expect when we reach the playoffs."
Lisch (16 points), Carter (14 points, 3 assists) and Redhage (12 points) led the way for Perth, who suffered a blow with centre Matt Knight injuring his ankle in the fourth term.
For Melbourne, Flynn finished with 24 points, seven assists and six rebounds in a virtuoso display, supported by Chris Goulding (15 points) and Liam Rush (14).
With Redhage involved early the Wildcats led 8-4, but Adam Ballinger and Goulding caught fire as Melbourne piled on 10 unanswered points in under three minutes.
Bartlett gave Perth a big lift off the bench, however, combining with Carter to pinch a 22-21 quarter-time lead.
A Rush-to-Matt Burston alley-oop to start the second term was countered by a technical foul on Rush and Perth extended their lead.
But Lucas Walker athletically injected himself into the game, dominating the glass and landing a long-range bomb as the physical war in the paint went to a new level.
When Goulding nailed a triple of his own the Tigers led by six, and an up-and-under jam by the exciting shooting guard capped 10 points for the quarter and ensured a 46-41 half-time advantage.
"We had a game plan, we just did not follow it (in the first half)," Beveridge said of giving up 46 points.
"You cannot let Ballinger get an open shot, you cannot let Goulding come off that turn-out cut. When we break down we’re not very good at all, but we took care of that at half-time."
Perth turned the game into an arm-wrestle and slowly grabbed the momentum. When Kevin Lisch connected on a transition triple the gap was back to three, only for Rush to hit back-to-back three-pointers and give Melbourne a 60-53 three-quarter-time lead.
The game swung again early in the final term, Lucas Walker picking up a technical foul and Carter nailing back-to-back triples to get the Wildcat train rolling to victory, his team landing a blistering 7-of-8 from long range to seal the win.
"Its been a little bit of a struggle, I feel like we're getting great shots," Lisch said of his team's season-long shooting woes.
"In the fourth I think we just let it rip a little more."
For Tigers coach Chris Anstey, his team showed they could compete with a top two opponent but let themselves down badly.
"I think we won all the statistical categories that matter, but unfortunately the category we won that cost us the game was bone-headed moments," he said.
"Two fouls after the whistle, a delay of game and a technical foul when we had the ball … Perth are one of the most disciplined teams in this thing and they didn’t have any of those moments."
Perth Wildcats 83 (Lisch 16, Carter 14, Redhage 12)
Melbourne Tigers 79 (Flynn 24, Goulding 15, Rush 14)
Crowd: 3500 at State Netball & Hockey Centre, Melbourne