Wildcats book Grand Final berth
Perth Wildcats have locked away a Grand Final berth for a third successive year, winning the deciding game of their three match semi-finals series against Illawarra 79-71 on Monday night.
They will host the first two of five games of the championship series, regardless of who wins the deciding clash in the other semi-final between Melbourne United and South East Melbourne Phoenix on Tuesday.
Mitch Norton's last quarter desperation epitomised that of his team, the star point guard overcoming pre-game injury concerns to play a pivotal role in the result in the final term.
Luke Travers produced one of the highlights of the season with under his defensive post before taking the ball the length of the court to dunk home the sealing basket.
Perth led by 16 points in the first half, but by only four with one minute left on the clock. The Hawks had several chances to get even closer.
Some big plays by Travers and Norton nailed the victory.
Wildcats coach Trevor Gleeson paid tribute to the character of his players, while acknowledging the fightback from the Hawks.
"We withstood a pretty big storm in the second half. I thought we came out pretty placid in the third," he said.
"We were timid, cruising, not screening or moving the ball. That was a recipe for disaster.
"To get into the grand final without your best player (Bryce Cotton), speaks volumes of their character."
Perth looked down and out after losing the opening game of the series, with the Hawks pinching a rare win in Perth in Game 1.
Norton provided the spark Perth needed when they were being challenged, as well as nine crucial points in the last term.
Froling top scored for the Hawks with 14 points, while Tyler Harvey was restricted to just 10 after picking up four fouls in the first half.
Todd Blanchfield top scored for Perth with 24 points.
Perth led 23-15 at quarter-time, with Blanchfield already dropping 10 points. He had 21 at the main break.
Justinian Jessup was struggling for the Hawks at the offensive end. He tried to set a cracking pace early, but made just one of five attempted field goals for the first quarter.
The challenge from the Hawks came hard at the start of the third term.
They scored the first 12 points of the term in just five minutes to get the margin back to only two points.
The Wildcats managed just nine points for the term, knocking down just three of 17 field goal attempts.
Josh Mooney's 26th double-double for the season, reached just before three-quarter-time, gave the Cats an important four-point buffer going into the final term.
Travers and Norton ultimately had the final say, setting up the Wildcats ninth Grand Final series in 12 seasons.
IMAGE: Perth Now.