For the second time in a month the NBL is making headlines in the NBA media. LaMelo Ball, the youngest brother of New Orleans Pelicans point guard Lonzo Ball, has announced he will be signing with the Illawarra Hawks for the 2019-20 NBA season.
A man of the match performance from Casey Prather has led the Perth Wildcats to a 1-0 lead in the 2016-17 NBL grand final series over the Illawarra Hawks recording a 12-point victory at the Perth Arena.
The match never really got away from being a close one, with the sides going back and forth and the lead changing hands multiple times, but when it counted the Wildcats ran away down the stretch.
For Rob Beveridge and his men, the biggest problem was controlling what they could control. They struggled to hang onto the ball, ending with 15 turnovers while their rebounding was an issue as they gave up a margin of 11, including 15-3 on the offensive glass.
Their zone defence was a big problem in causing this. While it kept the Wildcats away from big points early, it was worked out soon enough and their offensive rebounding became a huge weapon.
Add that to the scoring woes of Rotnei Clarke, who didn’t look confident with the ball in hand at any point during the game and ended up with only 11 points, it was always going to be an uphill battle for the Hawks.
Damian Martin had a big part to play in the offensive problems of Clarke, as he continually scrambled, caused turnovers and didn’t give Clarke room to breathe.
The Wildcats were led through the game by Martin, but it still took the efforts of Matty Knight, Casey Prather and Bryce Cotton to lead them on the offensive side of the court.
Prather would end with a game-high 22 points, but maybe even more damaging was Matty Knight’s effort on the boards as he ended with a double-double.
Despite the glaring issues in their game and on the stats sheet, the Hawks barely put a foot wrong during the first half.
The Hawks actually had a lead on the glass at the end of the first half, but they couldn’t hang on as Matty Knight rose to the fore and killed them during the second.
Illawarra came out of the gates strongly, leading by five at the end of the first quarter. Rhys Martin made a strong start to the game and was a big part of the reason they took a lead at the end of the opening term.
He continued through the second quarter, joined by Nick Kay to keep the Hawks in it, however they went to halftime with the scores tied.
The Wildcats seemed to be rusty through the first term after not playing for more than seven days, but their defence came into its own during the second, while their offence always picked up with Matty Knight and Bryce Cotton stealing the show.
Damian Martin was the gel that brought the offence together though, as he took five assists into the main break, the Wildcats able to take the momentum with them.
The Wildcats continued to be the stronger team into the third term although weren’t able to put the foot down and run away with the contest.
Casey Prather took over as the leading scorer for the Wildcats, while he continued to receive quality suppport and contributed to the Wildcats stifling defence which held the Hawks to just 20 points in the third quarter.
Despite some great efforts from role players like Cody Ellis in the fourth quarter, the Hawks were simply unable to hang onto the game and it was all over with about 90 seconds to play.
Trevor Gleeson’s men conitnued to get stops left, right and centre while they kept the scoreboard ticking over at the other end, eventually taking the 12 point win.
For Perth, it wasn’t their best performance but it was enough through the first three-quarters to take the lead and then increase it through the final.
The teams now head back to Wollongong for Game 2, which will be played on Wednesday night. Down 1-0, and with two more games on the road, this is an absolute must-win for the Hawks, while the Wildcats can set up a 2-0 lead on the road, with a chance to wrap it all up in straight sets next Sunday.
Don’t forget to join The Roar for live coverage of that one from 7:30pm (AEDT).
Field goals: Wildcats (33/74), Hawks (27/55)
Three points: Wildcats (7/23), Hawks (10/28)
Free throws: Wildcats (16/19), Hawks (13/16)
Rebounds: Wildcats (40), Hawks (29)
Offensive rebounds: Wildcats (15), Hawks (3)
Assists: Wildcats (21), Hawks (20)
Steals: Wildcats (7), Hawks (5)
Blocks: Wildcats (2), Hawks (2)
Turnovers: Wildcats (9), Hawks (15)
Points in paint: Wildcats (32), Hawks (26)
Second chance points: Wildcats (23), Hawks (4)
Points off turnovers: Wildcats (16), Hawks (9)
Bench points: Wildcats (18), Hawks (37)
Points: Casey Prather (22), Matty Knight, Bryce Cotton (18)
Rebounds: Matty Knight (11), Bryce Cotton, Jameel McKay (6)
Assists: Damian Martin, Casey Prather (5), Bryce Cotton (4)
Points: Cody Ellis (12), Rhys Martin, Rotnei Clarke (11)
Rebounds: AJ Ogilvy (6), Kevin White, Tim Coenraad (4)
Assists: Rotnei Clarke (6), Mitch Norton, Tim Coenraad (3)
Perth Wildcats 89
Illawarra Hawks 77
Game 2: Wednesday, March 1 (7:30pm AEDT) at WIN Entertainment Centre
Game 3: Sunday, March 5 (3pm AEDT – 12pm local) at Perth Arena
Game 4 (if required): Friday, March 10 (7:30pm AEDT) at WIN Entertainment Centre
Game 5 (if required): Sunday, March 12 (7pm AEDT – 4pm local) at Perth Arena