Wildcats start season with win over Phoenix
The Perth Wildcats quest for a historic hat trick of NBL titles has got off to the best possible start, defeating South East Melbourne Phoenix 88-76 on Sunday.
The visitors led by two points midway through the last quarter, but several crucial defensive plays and clutch baskets down the stretch saw Perth arrest the momentum in the final minutes, new import John Mooney and star Bryce Cotton making a telling impact in front of more than 7,000 fans at RAC Arena.
The win was a perfect way to celebrate Clint Steindl's 200th NBL game, the side having come out of quarantine at 12:01 AM on Sunday morning to play their first match of the season.
Perth made the better start on a day where they unveiled their 2019/20 NBL championship in front of their adoring home crowd, capped at 50% under state government restrictions.
Bryce Cotton sunk a three point shot with his first feel of the ball for the new season, showing no signs of rustiness as he and new kid on the block Mooney made their mark on the opening stanza.
Mooney was dominant on the glass with five of his seven first quarter boards being offensive, the 'Cats leading the Phoenix 23-17 after one.
South East Melbourne worked into it nicely to start the second, though, and it was 439-game veteran Adam Gibson the spark. He hit two quick threes for eight points to help the Phoenix assume the lead.
They then held onto the advantage 42-38 by half-time before the Phoenix continued on the momentum to open the second half. Reuben TeRangi nailed a three and then when Yanni Wetzell and Kyle Adnam also scored, the visitors were in control at 49-41.
Mooney provided one of the highlights of the match and the season so far when he came up with his own rebound just before half time, initially shooting from long range before charging to grab the ball and conjure a miraculous slam dunk that had the crowd on their feet.
The game took a dramatic turn in the third term with Perth coming out and scoring 13 of the next 15 points capped off with consecutive Luke Travers buckets, and a three-point Cotton play.
Tom Jervis then scored back-to-back buckets to close the third term with Perth up 60-57 having been down eight only minutes earlier.
Clint Steindl marked his milestone game with a three to open the fourth quarter but the Phoenix refused to lie down. With Gibson hitting another three and then Mitch Creek sparking a 6-0 run, suddenly they led again by two with five minutes on the clock.
But again Perth responded with the next six points including a Todd Blanchfield three ball. New captain Jesse Wagstaff then extended the lead before the Wildcats put the game on ice with Cotton free-throws, a couple of finishes from Mooney and finally another Cotton bomb from downtown.
Cotton finished with 27 points and 7 assists, while Mooney produced a stunning debut in red with 13 points and 15 rebounds, 8 of those offensive and 7 defensive rebounds.
Mitch Creek tried to lift his side over the line with 17 points, Cam Gliddon with 15 and veteran Gibson 13 in a Phoenix performance that promised plenty, but wasn't quite enough to give Simon Mitchell's men their second win of the season.
The two teams now prepare to do it all again back at RAC Arena on Friday.
IMAGE: Perth Now.