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Semi-Final Game 3 Preview: Perth v Illawarra

Who: Perth Wildcats v Illawarra Hawks What: Swisse NBL Finals, Semi-Final Game 3 When: 9.30pm (AEDT), Friday 26 February Where: Perth Arena Watch: Fox Sports; Sky Sports NZ; NBL Live App Last time they met: Illawarra 104 (Forman 21, Ogilvy 20, Penney 18) d Perth 87 (Prather 21, Beal 20, Knight 15), SF2, WIN Entertainment Centre, Wollongong THE MATCH-UP Matt Knight v Oscar Forman – In Game 2, Forman and Cody Ellis held Matt Knight and Jesse Wagstaff to just one defensive rebound between them, while producing 28 points, eight rebounds and shooting 4-of-8 from long range. A repeat of those ingredients could produce a tasty result for the Hawks on Friday. THE STATS Illawarra’s record is 8-3 when Forman and Ellis combine for six or more defensive rebounds. Before Game 2 they had averaged a combined 3.4drpg against the Wildcats. In the regular season series Perth led points in the paint by a staggering 162-92, but in this playoff series that advantage has been just 68-66. THE STORY Kirk Penney had shot 34-of-86 from the three-point line at 40 per cent in his NBL playoff career, but in this post-season he has remarkably made just 2-of-16 at 13 per cent. Yet somehow, the Hawks have weathered Penney’s cold snap, Kevin Lisch’s ligament snap and forced the series to a decider. If you believe captain Oscar Forman, they’re not too concerned about their sharp-shooter’s struggles. “Kirk’s Kirk, he’s going to come back fine. I have no doubt with that,” Forman said. In both games Penney has tried to shoot his way out of the mini-slump. It seemed the harder he tried the worse things got, but in Game 2 he made up for it with 6-of-9 shooting from two-point range and seven assists. “Some of his shots were uncharacteristically quite off, but what he did well was attack the rim, getting in there and being quite crafty,” Forman said. And therein lay the key to Sunday’s dominant performance. Illawarra took 12 more shots from inside the arc than Game 1 and earned seven more free throws. “It seemed like people made a conscious commitment to get on the rim and really put pressure on them and we were getting calls,” Forman said. “I’ve noticed in games we win we’re very aggressive offensively, it’s like we’re all racing each other to score. Timmy (Coenraad) gets a steal and Weeksy just jacks up a three. On some teams that would be considered a little bit crazy.” The Hawks’ penetration almost invariably came after slick ball movement, which allowed Illawarra to exploit Nate Jawai’s lack of mobility defending ball screens and get the giant Queenslander in foul trouble. With Jawai on the floor in Game 2 the Wildcats won the rebounding percentages 60-40, but when he was benched those numbers were 44-56 in the Hawks’ favour, allowing them to spark their running game and then pin Perth in defence with some key offensive boards. Jawai, Tom Jervis, Matt Knight and Jesse Wagstaff combined for just 28 points and 17 rebounds on Sunday, and Forman knows it will take a team effort to stop them bouncing back with the Red Army behind them. “It’s an all hands on deck kind of thing, making sure we can keep them off the offensive boards, but making sure we do it ourselves at the other end,” he said. “As soon as you start relaxing, that’s when you're done. You can’t just think in terms of the game, you have to think in terms of possessions, with them more than any other team.” THE WRAP The numbers suggest Illawarra are gaining ground, their turnovers, offensive rebounds conceded, points in the paint conceded and free throws conceded against the Wildcats all falling from the regular season series to the playoffs. Individually, AJ Ogilvy has increased his rebounding and blocked shot production from 5.3rpg and 1.3bpg against Perth in the regular season to 9rpg and 2.5bpg over the first two games, while his perimeter teammates have increased their board work from 12.5 to 17.5 per game. The Wildcats have shot 43 per cent from the arc and 39-of-52 from the charity stripe, but their 39 per cent from two-point range is well below their season average of 48, and coach Trevor Gleeson needs a lift from Jawai and Jervis, who’ve combined for 10-of-26 from close in. Jawai, Jervis and Knight had one assist and six turnovers in Game 2, and the ‘Cats simply can’t control the tempo if their bigs don’t absorb pressure in the low post to score or get the ball to open teammates, especially against the Hawks’ zone. Lisch shapes as the x-factor. Illawarra were within four points in the final quarter of Game 1 with their star in a moonboot, if he can give some meaningful minutes it will nail another defender to the perimeter and relieve pressure on Penney and the red-hot Coenraad. But Perth have played five games at home this season following a road loss , winning them all by a combined 94 points, suggesting it will take special from the visitors to overcome the defensive intensity of Damian Martin, Casey Prather and Co and proceed to the NBL Grand Final. Purchase tickets HERE.
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