Paulo Kennedy, Pagemasters
Tip-off: Friday, April 12, 7:30pm (local), Perth Arena
Broadcast: ONE (7:30pm WA, 9:30pm elsewhere); Sky Sports NZ; NBL.TV (live)
Radio: Sonshine FM; ABC Grandstand; Radio Sport NZ
Last time they met: New Zealand 79 (Corletto 19, Jackson 14, Vukona 10) d Perth 67 (Lisch 19, Redhage 17, Knight 13), GF1, Vector Arena
While their offence appeared to be the issue, the Perth Wildcats were bitterly disappointed with their defensive efforts in Game 1 on Sunday.
They rarely managed to disrupt New Zealand’s offence and managed a near season-low eight points from turnovers.
But when you consider the Wildcats’ leaders in deflections over the past three seasons are Damian Martin and Cameron Tovey – both averaging near double figures – that becomes a little less surprising.
With Martin out and the hobbled Tovey only playing eight minutes, no one else stepped up to the plate.
“I didn’t play a lot so I did a lot of watching,” Tovey said.
“That was our worst game – not just this year but in a couple of years. There’s a reason we are in the Grand Final but we didn’t follow that system at all.”
For Tovey, that system starts with defence, which allows the Wildcats to play their flowing transition offence.
“Because that wasn’t up to scratch we couldn’t really flow at all in transition,” he said.
“We rely on getting deflections and steals to really speed up the opposition.”
And that’s where the Wildcats – whose defensive brilliance has kept opponents to an average of fewer than 60 points a game at Perth Arena this season – need to get back to playing with the defensive swagger Tovey and Martin personify.
“Bevo mightn’t like it at times but we both take some risks and gamble a little bit,” Tovey said.
“Even if you don’t get it you can often deviate the pass and take them out of their offence. It gets the team going and raises our intensity.”
Expect plenty of that in Game 2 from the Wildcats’ retiring small forward, whose defence and rebounding prowess could be a key to extending his career one more week.
“I don’t want to end in Perth, I want to finish my career off in New Zealand with a win,” Tovey said.
During the month Tovey missed late in the season with a hip injury, opposition teams increased their offensive rebounding percentage from 26 per cent to 32 per cent.
In games played at Perth Arena this season the shooting percentages have been 38 per cent from the field and 27 per cent from long range. Across all other venues those numbers are 43 and 34.
Perth average 15.9 points from turnovers at Perth Arena, constituting 21 per cent of their score.
In Auckland over the past three seasons, the Breakers have shot an impressive 46 per cent from the floor and 38 per cent from long range against the Wildcats, but in Perth those numbers drop to 41 and 31.
New Zealand are 2-5 in Perth in that period, but in their two wins out west their shooting percentages have been 48 from inside the arc and 38 from outside.
A key to this game could be how many mental scars the Wildcats carry from their uncharacteristic performance in Game 1.
The Wildcats’ defensive pressure has bordered on unbelievable at Perth Arena – bayed on by their home crowd they have kept New Zealand to a total of 122 points in two games. In all other games the Breakers have averaged 83.9.
If Perth have that mentality it will take an exceptional shooting performance from the Breakers – in the league’s most difficult shooting arena – to claim the title in a sweep.
Expect some tweaks from Perth to open up more driving lanes against the sagging New Zealand defence, and if that creates a few more easy baskets the Breakers will find it difficult to keep up.
Prediction: Wildcats by 6