The Perth Wildcats have defeated the New Zealand Breakers to win the 2015/16 NBL Championship Series creating history in the process.
The win gives the club its seventh NBL title and third in a decade but they had to overcome what they had never done twice before and that’s defeats the Breakers in a Grand Final series.
The league’s hardball hashtag was in full viewing as the most physical and brutal Grand Final series in decades took place.
In Game 1 the Wildcats dominated in the first half courtesy of the awakening of sleeping giant Nathan Jawai, even a Tai Wesley flop call couldn’t stop him from dominating the paint.
Only Cedric Jackson‘s clutch 3pt shooting kept them in it in the first half defying his season poor percentages.
The second half comeback was lead by Cedric and his counterpart Corey Webster as they closed the gap to 45-38.
The game really heated up in the third as Thomas Abercrombie earnt a charging foul which from many different angles wasn’t conclusive, Wildcats Coach Trevor Gleeson having words with referee Michael Aylen at three quarter time exclaiming, “Your better than that Michael.”
63-61 and the physicality was going to a whole new level as the turnovers started to rack up, it was going to take one player to turn the whole game, Damian Martin.
In the final quarter he inspirationally blocked Webster, caused Cedric to have an eight second backcourt violation, scored a left hand hook to make it a two basket game and offensively tipped a rebound backout to the perimeter for a Wldcats score.
But even with eleven seconds left in the game, the Breakers trademark finding a basket when it counts came to the fore with Abercrombie and Webster hitting big 3pt baskets cutting it back twice to a single basket.
The Wildcats through Casey Prather cooly shut the door at the free throw line to claim game one of the series 82-76.
“He gives you points on the defensive end,” stated Gleeson of his captain’s performance.
Jawai lead all scorers in an even contribution of scorers with 15pts before checking out with a flared back in the fourth quarter.
The Breakers opened up a 9-0 lead to start game two, before Jermaine Beal with 8 first-quarter points and spark plug Jesse Wagstaff‘s 7 point run closed the gap to a point in favour of the Wildcats, 16-17.
The second quarter was a dour defensive affair and only highlighted by a Webster three point basket, whilst Beal lead all with 11 points keeping the Wildcats in it at half-time 37-31.
Cedric open the third quarter with a 3 kicking the Breakers out to as many as 11 points before Beal stuck another 3.
The quarter was highlighted by veteran Shawn Redhage‘s ability to find a score before he was flattened going for a layup which the referee deemed to be a flagrant foul.
Momentum swung and the Breakers only lead by 6 points at three quarter time 56-50.
Similar to Game 1 all players were tightening up as the tension and the physicality went up another notch halfway through the fourth quarter.
With Jawai banging around in the post it took a clutch Matthew Knight basket to tie the scores at 65 a piece with two and a half minutes to go.
The Wildcats then blew their chances with three missed baskets in a row before Abercrombie dropped the dagger 3 with one minute to go, 68-65.
With 16 seconds remaining Webster produced the shot of the night with an NBA rainbow arc of a 3 over a desperate Martin to put his team up 71-68.
Once again though the Wildcats caused a turnover, only for rookie Shane Illi to produce the defensive moment of the game causing Beal to lose the ball to Abercrombie who was quickly fouled.
He bricked both attempts but Mika “Heartman” Vukona won the ball off the backboard aggressively and after nervously missing his first, iced his second free throw to take the series to game three, 72-68.
“It was a crazy finish to the game. There were a lot of errors but they also helped us to win the game at the end,” Breakers Coach Dean Vickermann described.
Both teams looked incredibly jet-lagged as many shots wouldn’t drop at the start of game 3, but it was the man who you have been missing most of the grand final series Prather who started well.
Abercrombie started on fire with 5pts along with the open looks to Webster who had 7pts but when he sat down on the bench, it was the Wildcats bench of Redhage, Wagstaff and Tom Jervis that had them up 22 to 18 at quarter time.
After a number of offensive rebounds off missed shots from both teams, Jawai started to impose himself in the paint like game 1.
Former Grand Final MVP Beal was fouled on a converted 4 point play which forced the Breakers to call a timeout.
Off the back of the timeout Wesley hit a 3, But Damian Martin’s defensive play, one percenters and open look at 3 had the Wildcats up by what looked like a season breaking 12pt lead at the half, 42-30.
Third quarter rolled on and the Wildcats could smell the championship getting out to a 20pt lead and Martin was staking his claim for MVP.
The Breakers offense was rattled as it was reduced to 3pts in half a quarter, falling once again to the press for three turnovers which even had Dennis Commetti out of his chair for a “centimetre perfect” moment.
Abercrombie once again broke the drought with a rare 3 but was a rare highlight in an 8pt quarter, Wildcats with one claw on the championship, 57-38.
The party started early with Cedric fouled out early in the fourth followed by a couple of Redhage’s buckets which pumped up the Perth Arena.
Prather lit the cake with a sweet jam, 3 basket and another dynamic slam which sparked the Wildcats bench to take the court.
A short time later the Wildcats with the score 75-52 were crowned with their seventh championship and third in the last decade.
Damian Martin was named Grand Final Series MVP solidifying himself as one of the great defenders the NBL has ever seen, amongst the excitement he announced that his wife was expecting sparking rapturous applause from the Perth crowd.
“To win that individual accolade is something I’m sure I will think about once the celebrating unwinds. I’m grateful my name was called. Obviously I’ve been on the end of losing a couple because of New Zealand, but to just stand up there and hold the trophy is a special feeling,” the elated Larry Senstock medallist said.
The Perth Wildcats Grand Final series win of 2-1 makes them the most successful franchise in NBL history and will give the other eight teams plenty to ponder as they look to topple what can only be described as a dynasty.