The Roar
The Roar


Wildcats snatch finals berth by the barest of margins in final-day NBL drama

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5th February, 2023

The Perth Wildcats have pinched a finals berth by 0.06 of a percentage point after finishing a dramatic last day of the NBL regulation season with a 96-84 win over the Sydney Kings.

The Wildcats needed to win Sunday’s match against the minor premiers at RAC Arena by 11 or more points to steal sixth spot from Melbourne, who defeated Adelaide two hours earlier at John Cain Arena.

After trailing 21-16 at quartertime, Perth outscored the ladder-leading Kings 53-36 across the middle two terms to put the result beyond doubt.

But the all-important margin wasn’t decided until Sydney’s Dejan Vasiljevic missed a three-pointer with five seconds remaining.

Had Vasiljevic connected, it would have been season over for the Wildcats.

In the washup, Perth (15-13, 100.47 percent) pipped Melbourne (15-13, 100.41) for a knockout final shot at fifth-ranked South East Melbourne.

Wildcats coach John Rillie, incredibly, did not mention the required margin of victory to his players at any stage.


“We never talked about that at all,” he said.

“We played to win and if we play the right way, good sh*t will happen for us.

“We did not talk about the points spread at all.”

Corey Webster (26 points), Luke Travers (22) and Brady Manek (21) were outstanding for the hosts, whose feat was especially remarkable given Bryce Cotton endured arguably the worst individual game of his career, (seven points, 1-of-19 shooting).

Vasiljevic (18 points) and Xavier Cooks (15) led the way for the Kings, who were without star playmaker Derrick Walton Jr (wrist) and lost athletic reserve Jackson Makoi with a twisted ankle in the third term.

Perth shot 23 percent from the floor and 11 percent from downtown in the opening quarter before Luke Travers started the second quarter with a three and a dunk to give the Wildcats the momentum.

Mitch Norton of the Wildcats.

Mitch Norton of the Wildcats reacts after securing a finals berth. (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)


Feelings were high in the third term, with Sydney coach Chase Buford given a behavioural warning for making comments towards counterpart Rillie.

Manek’s slam midway through the fourth quarter stretched Perth’s cushion to 23 points before Sydney unleashed an 18-3 response, capped by Vasiljevic’s third three-pointer, to slice the gap to eight points.

Webster’s pullup jumper and a pair of Manek free throws inside the final minute pushed Perth’s lead back out again and ended Melbourne’s dreams.

“When we were 5-7 and lost five-in-a-row, there was only a room full of guys that believed,” Rillie said.

“Our bandwagon will be pretty full right now.”