The undermanned Perth Wildcats overcame a super-strong Illawarra Hawks outfit to win Sunday’s contest in a wildly entertaining game. It was a determined, gutsy, gritty, inspired – use any superlative you like – it was just a great win.
Perth mimicked Friday nights performance and came out firing – grabbing the early lead in the first quarter – with Jawai again looking like a beast. He finished the night going 4/4 from the field, on the way to nine points and an impressive five assists, in only 15 minutes of play – more on that later.
The Hawks, using their superior shooting skills, were able to run and gun past the Wildcats and take the lead at quarter time. They threatened to blow the game apart in the second and third terms, but Perth was able to stay within reach – down by five points at the last change.
The fourth quarter started poorly for the Wildcats; Jawai scored in the paint on another strong post move but was called for a – somewhat dubious – foul, which was his 5th and final one for the night.
With Jawai fouled out, Perth’s job was made that much harder, but they didn’t let that stop them – not on this day. The Wildcats, led by Jermaine Beal and a banged up Matt Knight, eventually grabbed the lead but then almost threw the game away – literally – turning the ball over on four consecutive possessions late in the contest – three of those turnovers by Jesse Wagstaff. Luckily the Hawks weren’t able to capitalise, and the Perth Wildcats came away with a narrow victory.
What worked well for the Wildcats
We’ll start with the two big boys, Nate Jawai and Matty Knight. Jawai only played the 15 minutes due to foul trouble, but it was a truly dominant 15 minutes. As was the case against the Adelaide 36ers and the Townsville Crocodiles, one defender wasn’t enough to contain him in the post. The Hawks sent double teams, but Jawai used his excellent passing skills to rip apart the Illawarra defense by finding the open man – which generally resulted in a made 3-pointer.
The offense with Jawai has finally started to find some rhythm, but keeping Nate on the floor is proving difficult.
As for his big man partner, Matty Knight, he put in a true warrior performance. He finished with a very efficient 22 points and ten rebounds – 5 of them offensive. That’s not the impressive part. He did so playing with a bum shoulder – which he aggravated even further – and took a nasty shot to the face in the last quarter. He battled on heroicly – Knight is one tough hombre – and ended up as the player of the game. Performances like that get your jersey retired.
Greg Hire scored 13 points on only five shots and pulled in 11 rebounds – four of them crucial offensive boards. Jesse Wagstaff was also great offensively, scoring 18 points, including three 3-pointers. With him on the floor as a power forward, the Wildcats have a dangerous offense; opposition teams can’t pack the paint with him out there. Wagstaff’s outside shooting demands somebody stick to him out on the 3-point line, which creates space for his teammates.
He did make some key errors late, however, but we won’t talk about that just yet.
Jermain Beal bounced back from a lackluster outing against the Crocs, and put in an MVP type performance – 25 points, seven assists, and clutch free-throws late in the game. For the majority of the second half, he was the primary ball handler, with the offense predominantly running through him.
Beal and Wagstaff formed a killer pick n roll combination, which the Hawks struggled to contain. It’s a play most teams will struggle to defend; the end result is either Beal going one-on-one with a bigger, slower defender, or an open 3-point attempt for Jesse Wagstaff. Trevor Gleeson needs to run this play a lot more than he currently is.
Things that didn’t work well
Nate Jawai is struggling to stay on the court. In every game this season he has either been in foul trouble, injured or gasping for air – sometimes all three at once. At this stage, it’s hard to imagine him playing for more than 20 minutes a game. He needs to find a way to do so.
Jarrod Kenny has been great so far this season filling in for the injured Damian Martin but against the Hawks he played like a backup. He made some key defensive errors and lacked the composure needed by a starting point guard. He seems to lack self-confidence, passing up open looks and getting rid of the ball as soon as he’s able to find an open teammate.
To his credit, he made two clutch three-pointers in the last quarter. It wasn’t his greatest game but with Martin eventually returning, Perth still have an excellent backup – who’s proving he can step up in key moments.
Kenny wasn’t the only player to commit defensive errors. As has been the case in all games this year, the Wildcats gave up way too many open 3-pointers. They tightened up late in the game, but it was horrible early on. Too often Perth’s perimeter defenders would get sucked into helping on double teams and traps, giving their opponents too much room behind the arc. You can’t do that against super 3-point shooting teams like the Hawks and Melbourne United – Perth’s next opponent.
Wagstaff was guilty of this on many occasions. As good as Jesse was on offense, he almost gave it all back on the defensive end. On a different day, his three late turnovers and defensive lapses would have cost his side the win.
The loss to the Townsville Crocodiles still stings, but this win eases some of that pain. Perth now moves to 3-1 for the season and should get Damian Martin and Casey Prather back next week.
It took until the fourth game of the season for the Perth Wildcats offense to function for a complete game but hopefully they’ve now turned a corner. There’s also plenty of room for improvement with Damian Martin and Casey Prather returning.
We don’t know how bad Matty Knight’s shoulder is, and Nate Jawai was limping during the game versus Illawarra.
Fingers crossed both will be fine to take on a dominant Melbourne United team, on Thursday night in Melbourne.