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Featured News / March 1st, 2017

Illawarra Hawks v Perth Wildcats G2 Grand-Final Preview

Illawarra Hawks v Perth Wildcats GF2

When: 7.30pm (AEDT), Wednesday 1 March

Where: WIN Entertainment Centre, Wollongong

Broadcast: NBL TV; Fox Sports; Sky Sports NZ

 

Cool, calm head
In 2007/08 he made his NBL debut and racked up 39 points and 24 rebounds in his first two professional games. In 2008/09 he was the league’s runner-up MVP and Most Improved Player.

When he returned from Europe in 2010/11 he made his playoff debut against the mighty New Zealand Breakers and averaged 16 points and eight boards in the semi-final series.

Since then he has made All-NBL Teams on a further three occasions, played in five grand final series, tasted two titles and is just two wins from another ring.

His name is Matt Knight, and while plenty of big name big men have returned to the league in recent seasons, to many the Knightmare is the best pivot of the NBL’s modern 40-minute era.

However, that run appeared to be coming to an end this season when Knight re-aggravated his troublesome shoulder in Sydney.

Before that game the Wildcats sat in second place with a 6-3 record and their burly big man from Burnie averaging 12.8ppg at 50 per cent, 8.7rpg and 2.5apg.

But the defending champs would then lose their way, dropping eight of their next 13 with Knight managing just 7.4ppg at 39 per cent, 5rpg and 1.3apg.

True to form though, Knight has rediscovered his just in time for the playoffs, and in three post-season Perth victories has averaged 14.7 points at 57 per cent, 6.3 boards and 2.3 dimes.

“It’s just the cool, calm head,” coach Trevor Gleeson said.

“I don’t know how many grand finals he’s been in, but he doesn’t get overawed by the occasion, he just plays.”

 

Finally dropping
That comment was after Game 1 of the grand final series against the Illawarra Hawks, where Knight had 10 points on 5-of-6 shooting in the opening seven minutes – along with two boards, an assist and a steal – to keep the Wildcats in touch with a rampant visiting team.

Time and again Knight would pick the moment his man’s head would turn to the ball and dart to his favourite mid-range spots to catch-and-shoot with deadly effect.
“We started off pretty rusty that first quarter, Matty really was the shining light,” Gleeson said.

“The guys have got confidence in Matt and keep giving him the ball in the right spots, he finds the spots that are open because Bryce (Cotton) and Casey (Prather), they almost get a double team (every time) down the court.”

The Wildcats are 9-3 this season when Knight scores more than 10 points, 8-3 when he has more than six boards, 8-3 if he dishes multiple dimes, and 9-3 when he shoots 50 per cent or better.

For that reason, Knight and the Wildcats are relieved to see his trademark jumper going through the hole after such a long dry spell.

“Teams just don’t want to guard me there, but I’ve done a lot of work with Matty Nielsen the last two months, just working on it before and after practice and they’re finally dropping, so hopefully teams do keep leaving me open at the top of the key,” he said.

That’s the first problem the Hawks must solve ahead of Game 2 in Wollongong on Wednesday night, how to continue to curb the influence of Cotton and Prather without letting Knight or Jesse Wagstaff off the chain.

 

We were soft
The second puzzle is tempo control. Leading 35-27 with just over six minutes to play in the second term, over the next 180 seconds the Hawks committed three turnovers and fired up three rushed triples in the first half of the shot clock.

Not surprisingly, the ‘Cats got their running game going, peeling off a 10-0 burst with Cotton and Prather scoring all those points on 4-of-6 shooting. Over the rest of the game they managed a wayward 12-of-36.

“We let them back in the game in the second quarter, we didn’t step on their throat when we had the opportunity, too many turnovers,” point guard Rhys Martin said.

The third and final piece of the puzzle is the possession game. Perth had six less turnovers than the Hawks and grabbed 14 more offensive rebounds, giving them 20 more scoring opportunities.

 

“We were soft. We gave up 17 offensive rebounds. You simply cannot beat most teams let alone the Wildcats if you’re going to give up 17 offensive rebounds, and we had three,” coach Rob Beveridge said.

“When we play the D and rebound we can flow into our offence but we just played into the Wildcats’ hands.”

While Beveridge has publicly focused on his team’s lack of rebounding effort, behind closed doors he will undoubtedly be addressing two key strategic areas.

Defensively, the Hawks’ allowed too much middle penetration, which forced their D to collapse and open up rebounding lanes for the likes of Knight, Prather and Jameel McKay, who had 12 o-boards between them.

 

Efficient Hawks
At the offensive end it will simply be about moving the ball before Perth’s defence can get into the passing lanes and force turnovers.

 

Beveridge’s men shot 62 per cent from two-point range, 35 per cent from deep, 81 per cent from the charity stripe and dished out 20 assists on 27 made field goals.

That quality conversion allowed them to be within five points with five minutes to play despite 19 fewer field-goal attempts and three less free throws.

“We were in the game, we’re legitimately in the game with next to no preparation, but I think the effort’s not good enough, if we can’t rebound we can’t win,” Beveridge said.

“You halve that (rebounding difference) and we can win the game, that’s how close the championship is going to be.”

Perhaps what most disappointed Beveridge was that a clearly-hampered Ogilvy managed six defensive boards in 19 minutes, but none of his compatriots collected more than four.

“The others, they’ve got to step up. That’s what teams are about, when players are down you have to step up for your teammate,” he said.

Perth’s defence will have to step up another level to secure the club’s first road grand final win in 17 years – when they defeated the Titans at Rod Laver Arena – especially considering Illawarra have won their past four games at The Sandpit averaging 97.7ppg.

 

Shaking Damo
A key factor there will be whether the Hawks find a way to free Rotnei Clarke from Damian Martin’s clutches and get their shooting guard more than eight shots.

“Damo did a great job on Rotnei, obviously he’s a past MVP and we’re quite familiar with him playing against him a couple of years ago in the semi-finals,” Gleeson said.

“We know that they’re a scoring (team) and it’s going to test our defence … we got one tonight but we know it’s going to be on fire again on Wednesday night.”

Martin v Clarke, Cotton v Mitch Norton and Knight v Ogilvy and Nick Kay should all be classic battles with players in each match-up looking for redemption after a subdued Game 1.

The Hawks are also hoping they can add Marvelle Harris v Prather to that list, if their young import is able to return from visiting his ill father in the USA in time.

“There’s no doubt he could help because he gets to the basket, he’s one of the best guys at getting to the rim, and physically he can also match up against the Prathers,” Beveridge said.

That would also allow Tim Coenraad to move back to his preferred spot on the pine after a 4-of-11 night in Game 1, re-joining Cody Ellis and Rhys Martin who were both superb on Sunday as the Hawks won bench scoring 37-18.

 

 

Making adjustments
With his team unsettled, Beveridge said they need “to find something from within” to bounce back in Game 2, but Gleeson isn’t buying it.

“Do you believe that? Wollongong always want to play the underdog,” he said.

“They play so hard and strong, we have the utmost respect for them, but we’ve just got to control what we can control, and that’s playing good defence, sharing the ball, playing unselfish and playing with our heart, that’s our bread and butter.”

For Rhys Martin, without much preparation time it’s about the Hawks doing the smart yards like they did in their semi-final triumph over the 36ers.

“It’s similar to Adelaide, losing Game 1,” he said.

“We have to look at it, analyse it and make changes. We have to make adjustments, if we don’t we’re going to get beat on our home court.”