Hungry Jack's NBL
MVP Battle for the Ages as Wildcats Win by One
They were voted the top two players in the NBL for a reason and Bryce Cotton and Scott Machado put on quite the show to open the finals on Friday night combining for 73 points but it was the Perth Wildcats beating the Cairns Taipans 108-107 in overtime.
The teams looked evenly matched coming into the game at RAC Arena and that's how it played out. The 'Cats made a break to lead by nine at quarter-time after 14 Bryce Cotton points.
But Defensive Player of the Year DJ Newbill kept him scoreless in the second quarter, scored 13 himself and the Taipans piled on 34 to head into half-time leading 54-45.
It was destined to be decided by the mega star guards though. Cotton put up 14 fourth quarter points but Machado produced 10 of his own. In the end it was Fabijan Krslovic and Nick Kay who traded threes and we went to overtime.
Ultimately, three more triples to give him 10 for the night from Cotton in overtime proved the difference and while Cairns shot at 61 per cent including going 15/27 from deep, they couldn’t overcome 17 turnovers to three even with 12 more rebounds than Perth.
The Cotton-Machado battle was simply one for the ages. Cotton, fresh off winning his second MVP, put up 42 points and six assists on 14/26 shooting and 10/19 from deep.
Machado, second in MVP voting and in the All-NBL First Team, was brilliant with 31 points, nine assists and eight rebounds on 11/18 shooting and 5/8 from beyond the arc.
Nick Kay also had 23 points, nine rebounds, six assists and three steals for Perth while Jesse Wagstaff came up huge. Coming on midway through the third and staying on the rest of the way for 10 points, three boards and two assists.
Mitch Norton had 12 points but Damian Martin's influence despite only two rebounds and two steals was significant, especially late.
Wildcats coach Trevor Gleeson couldn’t laud the efforts of dual MVP Cotton enough.
"He obviously started the game really well and he didn’t score in the second, but they were obviously giving him a lot of attention out there," Gleeson said.
"But there were big shots to be made and Bryce wants the ball in his hands, and can make them under pressure. That's why he's who he is, just a great player and he loves the pressure situation.
"But still plays in a team environment to make those passes to Jesse just to free that up. He was outstanding and so was Nick. They played a lot of minutes in the second half and did an excellent job."
DJ Newbill added 25 points for Cairns and Cam Oliver 19 points to go with 18 rebounds while Nate Jawai also scored 10 points.
Taipans coach Mike Kelly was a proud man about so many aspects of his team's performance, but ultimately the 17 turnovers stood out too much.
"There's some frustration there but also pride in the way the guys stood up and played through some mistakes, and some shot making by the Wildcats," Kelly said.
"We turned the ball over too much, you just can't turn the ball over here and you can't give up a lot of offensive rebounds. They got a lot more shots than us (16). We shot the ball really well but didn’t get enough of the ball, or enough shots up. They kept up the pressure and we turned the ball over."
It was no surprise to see Cam Oliver score the first five points for Cairns but Mitch Norton hitting the first five for Perth wasn’t as easy to predict, all on Bryce Cotton assists.
It would then become Cotton's opening period as the MVP showed exactly why he received that accolade draining three triples, turning one of them into a four-point play on his way to 14 points by quarter-time.
Perth was up 29-20 after one but DJ Newbill was going to have none of it. By half-time, the Taipans skipper had piled on 13 of his 15 points for the half and the league's Best Defensive Player also kept Cotton scoreless.
That had the Snakes quietening the Red Army significantly having shot 67.7 per cent for the half including going 7/12 from beyond the arc to lead 54-45.
Perth was always going to come out a determined unit to start the second half and Cotton instantly scored after his scoreless second term. Oliver responded with a three-point play before Mirko Djeric hit three at the line and Machado scored to keep Cairns up nine.
But Jesse Wagstaff turned the game Perth's way as he joined Kay on the floor with Plumlee in foul trouble. Wagstaff would hit two triples to close the third quarter while Cotton, Clint Steindl and Kay hit from deep too to cut the Cairns lead to three heading into the fourth.
Cotton hit the first four points of the last period to give Perth its first lead of the second half and Cairns was feeling the heat, coughing up a couple of soft turnovers.
Machado and Cotton then traded threes, as did Cotton and Newbill to keep scores locked away with the tension building and Perth continuing to go small with Kay and Wagstaff with Plumlee sitting.
The Wildcats skipped away by six with a three from Kay and and-one from Norton, but Cairns answered with triples from Djeric and Machado, and then a dagger from Krslovic to go up one with two minutes left.
Newbill stretched the lead to three at the line before with 30 seconds left, Kay dropped a triple to tie scores up and the game went to overtime with Cairns unable to hit the walk off winner.
In overtime, Machado and Cotton again traded huge threes before Oliver got things back level with a huge tomahawk slam. But a Cotton three in Machado's face and then Cairns' 16th turnover of the game sent the Red Army into its loudest moment of the game.
A timeout from Mike Kelly worked for Cairns with Newbill coming out and nailing a three only for Cotton to respond in kind. Newbill then made a tough bucket, Kay hit two free-throws and then an Oliver tip-in kept Cairns within two.
The shot clock was off and the Snakes had to foul Wagstaff and he made both at the stripe. The Taipans had 11.9 seconds but it wasn’t to be from deep and Machado scored inside and Perth won by one.
Game 2 takes place Sunday evening at Cairns Convention Centre.
NBL SEMI FINALS GAME 1
PERTH WILDCATS 108 (Cotton 42, Kay 23, Norton 12)
CAIRNS TAIPANS 107 (Machado 31, Newbill 25, Oliver 19)
Perth leads best-of-three series 1-0