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GF1 Report: Jawai, Martin inspire Wildcats to Game 1

A flash of dominance from Nate Jawai and remarkable defensive finish by Damian Martin saw the Perth Wildcats claim Game 1 of the Swisse NBL Grand Final Series over the New Zealand Breakers 82-76 at Perth Arena on Wednesday night. The Wildcats threatened to blow the game apart during the second quarter when Jawai showed his most dominant patch for the entire season. He was unstoppable in the block scoring 13 first half points and put Charles Jackson, Alex Pledger and Tai Wesley into early foul trouble. The Breakers kept themselves in the contest to only trail by seven at half-time and the Champions of four of the last five seasons surged to the lead late in the third quarter with seven straight points, and a 12-2 run. The Wildcats never surrendered the lead again and it was the defence of Martin down the stretch that made the difference. The five-time Defensive Player of the Year had a stunning block from behind on Corey Webster, forced at least two turnovers himself late, tipped an offensive rebound and made Perth's last field goal in the game. Martin was absent with an Achilles injury in the last Grand Final meeting in 2013 between the two teams. He had a point to prove in his battle with Cedric Jackson and showed why he is in the discussion as the NBL's best ever defensive player. He finished with nine points, 10 rebounds and five assists with coach Trevor Gleeson continuing to marvel at the efforts of his skipper. "That block, scrounging and then offensively he hit some big shots and when we needed something to the basket, he does the floater in the middle. That's what you want your leaders to do is step up and show actions," Gleeson said. "Damo's been doing that and his leadership has been first class. It was a great game from a true champion. We know Damo is the engine room for our defence, he gets everyone going. "It's a good asset to have and hopefully we can execute a little bit better offensively in New Zealand. It's playoff basketball, it's tough and hard, and this was a pretty good solid win." Jawai finished with 15 points for Perth while Matt Knight contributed 14 points, Casey Prather 11, Jesse Wagstaff 11, Jarrod Kenny eight, Jermaine Beal seven and Shawn Redhage seven. Jackson was a strong contributor still for the Breakers and threatened to lead his team home at different points. He had 14 points, six rebounds, four assists and two steals. Webster scored 19 points for New Zealand to give them a hope with Mika Vukona his trademark tough self with 11 points, six boards and three assists. Charles Jackson avoided the desperate foul trouble that Pledger (four points in 11 minutes) and Wesley (eight points in 15 minutes) found, and had 11 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks. Breakers coach Dean Vickerman was proud of the way his team fought, but defending Jawai and Knight in the post will be a focus for Game 2. "I liked the way that we battled ourselves back into it. Early on we obviously had a lot of foul trouble with our bigs after Knighty and Jawai did a good job early on and got some calls, and made a couple of extra moves to draw those fouls," Vickerman said. "That forced us to do something different and we haven’t played much zone all year, and we threw a little bit of that out there. It helped us change the momentum a little bit and we had a good shot in the fourth quarter to knock that one over. "We had some decent looks that didn’t go for us but I'm happy the way we defended their imports. But we can do better defending their post people to stay out of foul trouble to make this a pretty good series." The Wildcats managed to open a double-figure lead by early in the second quarter and then Jawai took over. He made four successive field goals for his team and the Breakers couldn’t stop him. But somehow the Breakers only trailed by seven at half-time and then Cedric Jackson inspired a run of 12 of 14 points for the visitors to see them take their first lead in over two quarters. It remained a tense fourth period but the Wildcats were solid at the line when it mattered and then Martin took over defensively to ensure Perth took the Game 1 win. Game 2 will now take place at North Shore Events Centre on Friday. A win for the Breakers and it's back to Perth on Sunday. A Wildcats win and they claim a record-stretching seventh Championship. PERTH WILDCATS 82 (Jawai 15, Knight 14, Wagstaff 11, Prather 11) NEW ZEALAND BREAKERS 76 (Webster 19, Cedric Jackson 14, Vukona 11, Charles Jackson 11) BOX SCORE
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