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Swisse Grand Finals Wrap: NBL trophy returns to Australia

As the saying goes, ‘Offence wins games, but defence wins Championships’, so it was only fitting that the two sides left standing in the NBL were  built on defence. With the first two games giving us some of the closest basketball scoring imaginable, it was Perth who roared home in Sunday’s deciding Game Three. Thanks to Finals MVP Damian Martin, the Wildcats put a lock on New Zealand and threw away the key. It was said that whichever point guard got the upper hand would win the Championship ring for their team, and it was New Zealand’s Cedric Jackson’s faltering in the Perth pressure cooker that may have lost his side that opportunity. Congratulations, Perth Wildcats the 2015/16 NBL Champions. Game 1: Perth Wildcats 82 def New Zealand Breakers 76, Perth Arena When defence is the order of the day, Damian Martin will be first on the scene. One of the best defensive players Australia has ever produced unleashed the beast on Wednesday, but his impact was not just felt on one end of the floor. Keeping his side poised on the offensive end through the bulk of the night, Martin scored nine points and dished out five assists without committing a single turnover. His job was made easier with a rejuvenated Nate Jawai commanding attention down on the low block, but Martin ensured his 140-kilogram mate got the ball in his spots with regularity – not an easy task with such a smart and physical Breakers team shrinking the floor. Standing at just 186 centimetres, the eventual Finals MVP was a monster on the glass, ripping down 10 rebounds (four offensive). Martin and Jawai (15 points on 7-of-10 shooting) were the Wildcats’ two standout players, with Jawai issuing the challenge from the very start of the game. Unstoppable down low, he put Alex Pledger, Charles Jackson and Tai Wesley into foul trouble in a dominant 13-point first half. At one stage the Wildcats plan was simply ‘look for Nate and get out of the way’, such was the influence of the Wildcats enforcer and former NBL Rookie of the Year. Both sides were evenly matched early before quick threes to Jarrod Kenny and Shawn Redhage forced Breakers coach, Dean Vickerman to blink first. Fuelled by desperate cries from the Red Army, Perth’s 22-14 margin expanded to 10 by quarter time before the visitors stabilised to go into the main break down by seven. Typically winning time for Perth, the third quarter was actually New Zealand’s. Two Charles Jackson buckets capped a 14-6 run, giving them a one-point lead, but Perth found their offence again for a two-point lead into the last quarter. The margin never went above five points until Jesse Wagstaff’s free throw 20 seconds from full-time. Two clutch threes to Thomas Abercrombie (nine points) and Corey Webster (19) in the final 13 second weren’t enough as Perth closed it out at the foul line. BOX SCORE [ooyala code="9iZTJpMTE6rAIsCoIMAfl8HuYERunThj" player_id="d5b993422b3e4b5ebd61f9e19ca2a6a5" width="1920" height="1080" auto="true"]   Game 2: New Zealand Breakers 72 def Perth Wildcats 68, North Shore Events Centre Both sides had to regroup fresh off the drama-filled first game, but the travel from Perth to Auckland appeared to impact all shooters except the Wildcats’ Jermaine Beal (4-of-7 3pt), as heavy legs meant NZ shot just 22 per cent from deep while the Wildcats managed 31 per cent. Beal, who was very passive in a seven-point Game One, came out fit and firing, while a couple of early breaks made penetrating the paint much easier. With 23 minutes in Game One, Jawai (nine points on 4-of-8 shooting) defied the odds to match his output despite clearly feeling discomfort in the back in the latter stages of Game One. While Jawai and Matt Knight had the keys two days prior, it was the perimeter threats of Beal and stretch-four Jesse Wagstaff making most of the plays in Auckland. New Zealand had clearly moved on well from their close loss, torching the Wildcats with a 9-0 run right out of the gate, before a Jawai jam opened the Wildcats’ account. The rest of quarter one was the Beal and Wagstaff show, with the duo combining for the next 15 Perth points as they held a 17-16 lead after 10 minutes. The dour tone was set through the first term, and it aided neither team. Locked at 29-29 with three minutes left in the second term, New Zealand finished the half on an 8-2 run thanks to strong post play from Tai Wesley (11 points on the game). Corey Webster, who would later prove to be the hero, was noticeably lacking enthusiasm and intensity, took the margin to 11 with a pair of free throws, as a spry Shawn Redhage helped bring his side back to six with a quarter to play. Cedric Jackson, who fell in love with the three-pointer to horrible result (1-of-10 on the game), finally got his distributing game on to either score or assist on all six Breakers final-quarter field goals, but the Wildcats kept coming. Beal helped bring the Cats level, and just 2:44 away from a Championship. But Abercrombie and Webster had different ideas, with the beanpole swingman splashing a top-of-the-key three with a minute on the clock. Wagstaff responded with a leaning mid-range jumper, but on the next possession Webster hit a miracle triple over a closing Knight as the shot clock wound down to put his side up four. After Beal made 1-of-2 at the foul line, Webster gave the visitors a shot at overtime with an over-and-back violation with 13 seconds left, but Beal then turned it over as the hosts closed it out at the line. BOX SCORE [ooyala code="BrOWxsMTE6A8ahTysat84hafSr5sQ_Ig" player_id="d5b993422b3e4b5ebd61f9e19ca2a6a5" width="1920" height="1080" auto="true"]   Game 3: Perth Wildcats 75 def New Zealand Breakers 52, Perth Arena With travel-weary legs and an ailing bigman seemingly holding on through the miracles of sports science, trust the Perth Wildcats to pull out one of the best defensive performances in the club’s rich winning history. And who else was pulling the strings but, Damian Martin? Reading the box score, 10 points, eight rebounds and one assist do not sound like Finals MVP-type numbers, but what did not show is the fear he struck within opposition ball-handlers. As it always does, his dogged pressure inspired the men in red, who made sure that no pass was safe. That kind of unrelenting defence had an accumulative effect throughout the game, shown best in the Breakers’ eight third-quarter points. Up 57-38 with a quarter remaining, Perth had inflicted NZ’s lowest ever three-quarter time total. With the Red Army fuelling one of the most dominant defences the NBL has seen, the game was pretty much over when Matt Knight (four points, 11 boards) scored to put his team up 20 at the 4:06 mark of the third quarter. Down 16 points with 8:46 remaining the Breakers threatened a run, but their faint hopes were dashed by a quick 7-0 spurt. Holding a 16-12 lead in the first term, New Zealand looked as though they would make it a decider for the ages; however, the Cats turned up the juice; pounding the boards (plus-six) and putting pressure on the rim (plus-14 points in the paint), the visitors just could not run with them. Charles Jackson’s running hook gave him the season’s final points, but it was the sea of red celebrating what could be the start of a new NBL Championship dynasty. BOX SCORE [ooyala code="djbDRvMTE6FtgZEUjPnKcmKmw5csVUqp" player_id="d5b993422b3e4b5ebd61f9e19ca2a6a5" width="1920" height="1080" auto="true"]   The National Basketball League truly turned a corner in season 2015/16 under the guidance and business savvy of both Executive Director Larry Kestelman and General Manager Jeremy Loeliger. There is always work to do in ensuring basketball maintains and elevates its standing in the ultra-competitive national sporting landscape, but NBL head quarters are officially on the path to a better future for our sport. Stay tuned during the off-season for exciting updates, as we work toward a bigger and better 2016/17 season. Congratulations to the Perth Wildcats and thank you, Australia and New Zealand, for joining us.
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