The Perth Wildcats will be full of confidence facing the Illawarra Hawks in the semi-finals, having demolished them 4-0 in the regular season. However, it’s hard to gauge exactly how much to take out of those four wins, as we didn’t see both sides at full strength in any of the regular season contests.
What we do know is these two teams are polar opposites in playing style. Illawarra scores the most points per game; the Wildcats concede the least.
The Hawks play a free-flowing, up-tempo, run and gun style offense with 3-point shooters spread all over the floor. Perth will pound the rock inside to their two behemoths, trying to out muscle opponents to gain points in the paint.
In the of sport boxing, they say different styles make fights, well if that’s also true in basketball we are in for one helluva series.
Some Key Statistics
3-pointers made per game 3-point %
Illawarra 11.3 39%
Perth 7 36%
This is where Illawarra have the advantage over the Wildcats. The Hawks are ranked number one in the league in 3-point makes per game and 3-point percentage this season. Perth shooting the long ball at 36 percent is very respectable, but the problem they have is creating enough of those outside shots – seven made 3-pointers per game is the lowest in the league.
Offensive Rebound %
Perth 36% – Best in the league
Illawarra Defensive Rebound %
67% – Worst in the league
The Wildcats obliterated the Hawks on the boards in the regular season. It’s a big reason they won the four outings between the two teams. If you’re unfamiliar with the above statistics, don’t fret, all you need to know is the Wildcats are awesome at grabbing offensive rebounds, and the Hawks aren’t very good at securing defensive ones.
This stuff matters. Offensive rebounds mean extra possessions, which means extra opportunities to score.
Nate Jawai vs AJ Ogilvy
Matty Knight vs Oscar Forman
Casey Prather vs Kirk Penney
Jermaine Beal vs Kevin White/Rhys Martin
Damian Martin vs Kevin Lisch
Expect Prather to guard Kirk Penney and Martin to resume his battle with league MVP Kevin Lisch. Casey Prather is one of the best on-ball defenders in the NBL, but he’ll have his hands full chasing the very dangerous Penney around the court – who’s an expert at losing defenders running around screens.
Lisch got the better of Martin in the last meeting – that’s no easy task. The 5-time defensive player of the year rarely, if ever, lowers his colours. If he can curtail the influence of D-Lisch in the series, it will go a long way to stopping the Hawks offensively – of course, that’s easier said than done.
The Key matchup will be Matty Knight against Oscar Forman. These two players are symbolic of the contrast between the two sides. Forman is the modern day stretch-four, raining fire from downtown while Knight is the old-school basher in the paint. Both bring power to the position but in very different ways.
Forman will look to exploit Knight in the pick-n-pop game, hoping to find just an inch of space, which is all he needs to drop a dagger.
The Wildcats can’t afford to leave Forman open behind the arc. Give Oscar Forman enough open looks from 3-point territory and he’ll take the game away from you. He’s made a career out of it.
Having a power forward who can drill 3-pointers is a bonus, but it typically comes at the expense of rebounding. It’s hard to find forwards who are great at both rebounding and shooting three’s. Forman – who’s averaging a paltry 3.3 boards a game – is a primary reason Illawarra are ranked dead last in rebounding. Conversely, the 8.1 boards Matty Knight grabs is why Perth are the best in the league in that particular category.
And it’s not just on the glass the Wildcats have the advantage. Knight is bigger and stronger than Oscar and in the previous encounters this season he’s bullied him in the post. Forman is simply too small to defend Knight in the paint.
The winner of the matchup between the power forwards will likely decide which way this series goes.
Keys to a Wildcats victory
No open 3’s
As mentioned above, stopping Oscar Forman shooting open 3-pointers is critical, and same goes for the rest of the Hawks players. Penney and Lisch are deadly from downtown, give them an inch of space, and they’ll kill you.
Grab them Boards!
By the end of the series the Wildcats will have outrebounded the Hawks – that’s guaranteed. Dominate the battle on the glass and the ‘Cats should win the series, but if Illawarra can keep the board count close, it could be a different story.
Taking care of the ball
This season Perth turned the ball over at the second-highest rate in the league. They’ve been especially bad in recent weeks. That needs to change against this Hawks outfit who thrive on baskets in transition. Illawarra uses a helter-skelter full court press – get through it and there will be cheap points on offer at the other end.
Stop the Press!
The Hawks aren’t the only team employing the press, Perth has also used it, although sparingly this season. At times it’s worked, other times it’s been a disaster.
With both Knight and Nate Jawai on the floor, the ‘Cats aren’t quick enough to use the press successfully, especially against this Illawarra team who love to get out and run. It would be wise to shelve the tactic.
The past is irrelevant
The Perth Wildcats will start the series as favourites, and rightfully so. They comprehensively swept the regular season series, and the Hawks haven’t won a game in Perth in over ten years. That’s great viewing for Wildcats supporters, but as of now it means nothing.
Anything can happen in a three-game series. Had the NBA used a best of three format in last season’s playoffs, the Golden State Warriors wouldn’t be the defending champions. Remember they were down 2-1 in both the matchup against the Memphis Grizzlies and Cleveland Cavaliers before running away with the series and the title.
That can happen in a short series. Winning the first game, at home on Friday night, is crucial for the Wildcats. You don’t want to be going to Wollongong, playing in front of a hostile crowd, down 1-0 and fighting to stay alive in the finals.
Take care of business and protect home court.