Hungry Jack's NBL
Martin sends reminder of defensive greatness
Perth Wildcats captain Damian Martin missed out on a sixth successive Defensive Player of the Year award. But in Wednesday night's Swisse Grand Final Series opener, he showed why he could very well be the NBL's best all-time defensive player. Martin had claimed the previous five NBL Defensive Player of the Year awards with the ability of the point guard to make carrying the ball a nightmare for his opponents not to mention his ability to pull off steal after steal, rebound strongly and reject shots from nowhere simply remarkable. He had a tough start to the 2015/16 season firstly with a calf injury and then a fractured jaw which saw him miss a sixth straight Defensive Player of the Year crown with old teammate Kevin Lisch taking it out, but Martin has sent a stark reminder of his capabilities. It began in the Semi Final Series against the Illawarra Hawks where he was match-winning in Game 1 in Perth after Lisch went down hurt. And then in the deciding Game 3, he made Lisch's return from an ankle injury as tough as could be and was equally instrumental in the final result. That set up a clash in Wednesday's Game 1 of the Grand Final Series where Martin's first job was to quell the influence of a man who has never played an NBL season without winning a Championship, Cedric Jackson. Jackson has been in as good a form as he has ever been in with the Breakers winning their last five games of the regular season and then 2-0 against Melbourne United in the Semi Final Series. Even though Jackson still had a strong game, Martin made it a nightmare last couple of minutes for him with the game on the line. It started with Martin snatching the ball out of Jackson's hands as he tried to make a play and then soon after he forced him into an eight-second back court violation. That came after a game-changing block from nowhere by Martin on Corey Webster who was on the fast break. New Zealand had all the momentum at that time and if Webster scored there's every chance the Breakers go on to win. But as he has so often done in his career, Martin turned the game with his defensive prowess and grew an extra leg with the game on the line to lead the Wildcats to the 82-76 win with him also scoring his team's last field goal on a drive to the basket. The block on Webster became the play of the game and Martin was delighted to have pulled it off, but he made special mention to Matt Knight and Nate Jawai for setting up the win. "I knew he (Webster) was going to try and make a play because he'd already made huge plays in the fourth quarter. I was just lucky that whoever was in front of me slowed him down enough so that my old legs could catch him and it just worked out that as he was laying it up I caught up," Martin said. "Our bigs set the tone and good teams can make adjustments within a game and I thought we did that. In the first quarter I thought we were very good on the offensive end with our two bigs in particular Matty and Nate, and then it became more of a defensive grind in the second half. "That's where my role steps up and it was good to get that block otherwise I would have looked like an idiot." Given the Wildcats have never beaten the Breakers in a Finals Series from three attempts, Martin is fully aware that winning Game 1 guarantees nothing but it's certainly a much nicer feeling than falling one game behind as they did in the Grand Finals of 2012 and 2013. "It's nice but you don’t want to get too carried away because they are such a great team. A 10-point lead is nothing against the Breakers, they are capable of bringing it back and bringing it back quickly," he said. "The guys don't want to get too far ahead of themselves, we've got a huge task on Friday and you really want to close it out then because if you give them a bit of confidence coming back here anything can happen. "Especially a team as successful as the Breakers with so many veterans. It's great to get Game No. 1, but in saying that we aren’t getting too carried away with it." Martin is also revelling in the fact that he's feeling fresh after missing the early parts of the season and is fully healthy to take on the Breakers. He had to battle through an ankle problem in the 2012 Grand Final and then missed the 2013 decider altogether after rupturing his Achilles in the Semi Finals. "It took me a while to get my game fitness back up to scratch with the calf injury to start the year and then two weeks without doing any type of exercise with the broken jaw," Martin said. "But it does feel great to be out there running around and feeling reasonably fresh, in particular at the back end of the season when I've had some niggling injuries in the past."