By Chris Pike, Pagemasters
The unlikeliest of three-point heroes Matt Knight hit a massive triple to help the Perth Wildcats escape with a 62-59 win over the Townsville Crocs at the Perth Arena on Friday night.
The Crocs led by as much as 10 during the third quarter and then three triples in the last quarter from Michael Cedar had them still in front with under a minute to go.
Reigning MVP Kevin Lisch hit two threes - including a staggering shake-and-bake that sent Perter Crawford to the floor - to firstly keep Perth close and then hit the front, but then it was Knight who nailed his first triple of the season with 35 seconds to go that ultimately iced the Cats win.
Lisch finished with 17 points but shot 6-of-19 from the field and 3-of-10 from three-point range but nailed the big buckets when it counted. Knight added 15 points and eight rebounds and Shawn Redhage 10 points in his 250th NBL match.
It was a brave effort from the Crocs with Gary Ervin scoring 12 points to go with nine assists, and Todd Blanchfield, Crawford (14 rebounds), Cedar and Luke Nevill all scoring 11 points.
Despite starting the season 0-10, the Crocs now have lost just twice now in the eight games since and with the Sydney Kings (10-10) and Wollongong Hawks (8-9) struggling in third and fourth positions, Townsville has claims on being the third best team in the league.
Crocs coach Paul Woolpert was proud of his team's effort, but couldn’t help but leave Perth feeling like they let a crucial win slip.
"I'm extremely disappointed to think that for the majority of the game we out-played the Wildcats. I told the guys at a couple of time-outs in the fourth quarter to go out and get it because we deserve it, and it just didn’t happen," he said.
"We didn’t get enough movement down the stretch and our aggression wasn’t what it needed to be, but for the majority of the game both teams defended extraordinarily well. It was just a matter of the Wildcats hitting some big shots down the stretch and the fact that they shot 18 free-throws to our six."
The Wildcats improve to 13-4 and it gives them the perfect lead into Thursday's clash with the New Zealand Breakers.
The Wildcats shot just 32 per cent from the field and coach Rob Beveridge knows that's not good enough, but he was proud the Cats still found a way to win.
"What we showed was how much character we had and I think that is the first time we've been put in a position where it was a real grind," Beveridge said.
"Obviously we shot the ball poorly and that's an area we need to work at, so that's no good, but the way we are playing defence and having to get in those grinding style of games, is what happens when we are so poor at shooting the ball.
"The character that our players showed was what I was so proud about because the Wildcats heart was there tonight. We gave ourselves an opportunity to win and made some amazing plays down the stretch."
It was a dour first half with the opening quarter ending tied at 12, and the Wildcats didn’t improve much in the second period backing up shooting 5-of-18 from the field in the second after 4-of-16 in the first.
While the Crocs improved to shoot 8-of-15 in the second quarter, turnovers and bail out foul calls at the other end meant they only led 31-29 at half-time.
The Crocs started better in the second half with Blanchfield knocking down two triples and an alley-oop and Crawford another long bomb to help them to a double-digit lead.
The Cats whittled that down to just three by three quarter-time and things heated up in the last quarter with both teams nailing big threes, but it was the home side just getting up in the end.
Perth Wildcats 62 (Lisch 17, Knight 15, Redhage 10)
Townsville Crocodiles 59 (Ervin 12, Blanchfield 11, M Cedar 11, Crawford 11, Nevill 11)
Crowd: 10,900 at Perth Arena