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Grand Final Preview: Game Two

Who: New Zealand Breakers v Perth Wildcats What: Swisse NBL Finals, Grand Final Game 2 When: 5.30pm (AEDT), Friday 4 March Where: North Shore Events Centre, Auckland Watch: 9Gem; Fox Sports; Sky Sports NZ; NBL Live App Last time they met: Perth 82 (Jawai 15, Knight 14, Prather 11, Wagstaff 11) d New Zealand 76 (Webster 19, Cedric Jackson 14, Charles Jackson 11, Vukona 11), GF1, Perth Arena THE MATCH-UP Cedric Jackson v Damian Martin – This battle didn’t disappoint in Game 1, both players making big plays at both ends and contributing on the boards, but it was Martin who came up trumps with two incredible defensive stops and a classic rolling hook shot to put the Wildcats clear. Just as importantly, Martin handed out five assists without coughing the ball up once. Jackson had four dimes and four turnovers – when he has at least three more assists than turnovers the Breakers are 13-6, when he doesn’t they are 5-7. THE STATS NBL Grand Final Game 2 has been won by the home team in nine of the past 10 seasons, the only exception being the Breakers winning in Perth in 2013. The Wildcats have lost their past five road games by an average of 15 points and have dropped their past four in Auckland by an average of 12.8. In New Zealand’s two wins over Perth they’ve averaged 53 two-point field-goal attempts and 41 paint points. In their three losses those numbers are 43 and 26.7. Perth have shot 28 per cent from the three-point line against the Breakers. Against all other opponents they’ve nailed 37 per cent. THE STORY In Game 1 the Wildcats got to the free-throw line 15 more times, had fewer turnovers, won paint points 38-28, bench points 26-19, second chance points 16-10 and points from turnovers 18-8. After Nate Jawai’s dominant start the game was on Perth’s terms for the majority of the night, allowing them to weather an uncharacteristic 1-of-12 three-point shooting performance from Jesse Wagstaff, Jermaine Beal, Shawn Redhage and Casey Prather. “That’s playoff basketball, that’s championship qualities of fighting through when you don’t play well. One of the things we have done all year is find ways to win, from finesse basketball to tough basketball,” coach Trevor Gleeson said. “We didn’t shoot the ball that well, Jermaine didn’t have a great game, Casey didn’t have a great game and I think Jesse was open for about five threes and he usually drops those, that’s an upside for us.” With Matt Knight and Jawai combining for 29 points at 60 per cent, the Wildcats will be confident that a better perimeter shooting display will deliver them the title on Friday, especially if Jawai brings the same aggressive mindset to dominate the keyway. Jawai G1 shot chart “His mind was focused and locked in, you could see it in his eyes before the game, he was ready for a big game and that was huge for us. That’s why we rested him up to get him right for this occasion,” Gleeson said. The Wildcats boss knows silver service to their big man is a key in Game 2 after New Zealand’s half-fronting defence denied him touches after half-time. “We have to make sure we get him the ball in the right spots, we got too passive with throwing bounce passes where we need some counters when they start fronting,” he said. On Wednesday, the Breakers had more turnovers than assists for the first time since mid-January, as Perth’s disciplined on-ball defence prevented Cedric Jackson from putting them into regular rotations. Where Tai Wesley had been a magnet for defences against Melbourne, the Wildcats defended his left shoulder hard, preventing him going to his pet moves and forcing him into 1-of-6 shooting from two-point range. Without that pair creating the defending champs rarely had any daylight on the perimeter, and when Cedric Jackson, Corey Webster and Tom Abercrombie shoot a combined 16-of-47 from the field victory is unlikely. “We’ve just got to make sure we get to the foul line enough, and early in the game when they were drawing a lot of fouls we probably settled a bit too much,” coach Dean Vickerman said. “They certainly put themselves in a position to get calls and we didn’t do that enough.” However, New Zealand will take great heart from the fact they lost by just six, and were within two with eight seconds to play. Mika Vukona and Cedric Jackson repeatedly made big plays in the first half, while Webster broke the shackles to hit some tough shots late. “I like the way that we battled ourselves back into it,” Vickerman said. “We had a good shot in the fourth quarter to knock that one over, I thought we had some decent looks that didn’t go for us. “If we can do a bit better job of defending their post people and staying out of foul trouble we can make this a pretty good series.” THE WRAP The Breakers must find a way to escape the Wildcats’ half-court defence. This season their combined average for defensive rebounds and turnovers forced is 41.3 per game, giving them plenty of opportunities to run, but that number was just 34 in Game 1. The Kiwis averaged less defensive boards against Perth than any other opponent, and in their three losses to the Wildcats have forced just 29 turnovers in total. In contrast, Perth flowed into their half-court offence in the first half of Game 1, getting quick ball rotations and early post feeds that put pressure on New Zealand’s bigs. However, it was the cheap, off-ball fouls Alex Pledger picked up that most hampered the Breakers’ defence of Jawai, and ‘The Chief’ must stay disciplined so he can force big Nate into tough shots over outstretched hands. At the offensive end, New Zealand need their bigs rolling to the hoop with purpose, and better movement on the weakside to create open three-point looks when the Wildcats help on ball-screen situations. Martin’s Game 1 effort was match-winning, his ability to rebound and run giving Perth plenty of shot clock, while his ability to slow the ball starved the Breakers of time. The defending champs must take back the tempo, and if they can regularly turn defensive boards into scores this series should go the distance.
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