If Saturday’s defeat of Sydney was a warning shot, then Monday’s fourth-quarter clinic against Brisbane was confirmation that the Perth Wildcats are once again Championship contenders.
On a tough, treacherous and taxing night at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre, Perth’s 72-68 win over the Bullets was the first time in three years that the ‘Cats have won three consecutive games on the road.
Neither side gave an inch as defence ruled the day, until the ‘Cats took control with a 28-point final term thanks to the playmaking brilliance of backccourt tandem Damian Martin (three fourth-quarter assists) and Bryce Cotton (seven fourth-quarter points).
Casey Prather netted a game-high 19 points in a welcome return to form, while Cotton added 11 and Jameel McKay dominated the backboard with 13 rebounds.
For the Bullets, Adam Gibson took control in one of his most attacking offensive performance in many years for 17 points (5/8 from downtown), and Torrey Craig had a solid 11-point, 12-rebound, four-assist night.
Perth coach Trevor Gleeson said the win in Sydney two days prior took a bit out of the tank, but was proud of his side’s defensive effort.
“It was pretty sluggish. We didn’t have that zip around us that we had on Saturday night, so those games really rely on your defence,” Gleeson said post-game.
“I thought the fourth quarter we really got off to a good start… that defence got us going, got us energised and it was a good way too close out the weekend.
“With ‘Damo’ coming back and Bryce in, we’re still in that period of getting in synch with each other. But I think you can see the parts are there. Bryce carried us on Saturday night, and we had Casey and Jameel doing the job for us tonight. Look out if the three of them get going, we’re going to have a lot of fun out there.”
Brisbane mentor Andrej Lemanis said there were some positives to come out of the game despite their fourth-quarter lapses.
“There was a lot of good stuff from us tonight; defensively a lot of good stuff going on,” he said.
“From a shooting percentage point of view, I thought we did a good job of keeping them down and did a good job on Cotton.
“They’re the best offensive rebounding team in the league and it’s something we worked on over the course of the week, coming into this game, and they had 16 offensive rebounds again tonight.”
The ‘Cats took a 22-13 lead into quarter-time, consigning Brisbane to its second-lowest first-quarter score of the season (with the first also against Perth on opening night).
But the script flipped in the second as Brisbane’s desperation showed through up-and-in defence that kept Perth to just 12 points on a 5/16 period.
With neither side firing in the third it was MVP candidate Craig taking the scoring load, throwing down the highlight of the game – a vicious baseline jam over Matt Knight – in the process.
They posted just 16 points in the third term, but Perth (10 third-quarter points) was having even more problems, with four turnovers and 2/7 shooting in a four-minute period with star playmakers Martin and Cotton both on the bench.
The home side took a seven-point lead into the final quarter, but that margin was gone in just over 60 seconds, with Jesse Wagstaff popping up for three at the top of the key, Angus Brandt scoring down low and Prather getting the hoop and harm to take a 52-51 lead just 70 seconds into the quarter.
The lead changed hands multiple times before Martin and Perth clamped down for another statement win.
PERTH WILDCATS 72 (Prather 19, Cotton 11, Brandt 9, Wagstaff 9)
BRISBANE BULLETS 68 (Gibson 17, Craig 11, Jervis 11)