The best-of-five NBL (National Basketball League) Finals series between the Perth Wildcats and the Sydney Kings commenced on Sunday, 8 March. Since the latter had home-court advantage, being the minor premiers, they hosted Game 1. With eleven thousand supporters at the arena, at least there was a significant fan presence. The Cats proved too much to handle against the Kings, winning by a deuce. Game 1 was a thrilling affair which, as the tally suggests, went down to the wire. Lead changes and deadlocks were common, making this the most watchable game of the tilt. The final score was 88-86. Two-time MVP Bryce Cotton erupted for 32 markers, while NBA vet Andrew Bogut posted a double-double of 18 and 12 for the home team.
However, against the imposing shadow of the coronavirus, the Australian government announced a cap of 500 people in indoor gatherings. Quick aside: the figure has since been decreased to 100 individuals. This negated the crowd presence not only in the NBL but in sporting leagues across the country. Thus, the remainder of the Final series was played to near-empty stadiums, with only players, team personnel, and officials allowed inside the venues. Back in Perth and facing a potential 0-2 deficit, the Kings quickly turned the tables, leading at every quarter time. Game 2 was a dominant display, with American Jae’sean Tate leading the charge. The swingman finished with 20 points. Meanwhile, Cats big man Miles Plumlee once again dominated the boards, racking up eight rebounds. Cotton led the visitors with twenty-seven points and three helpers. The struggles of Kings star Casper Ware were well documented all series long, as he put up brick after brick. Game 2 saw the Kings score 97, while the Cats managed 85.
‘Nothing but Cotton’
Game 3 was back in Qudos Bank Arena (Sydney), and once again the Wildcats felt right at home. They had a torrid first canto, leading the Kings, 29-18 at the break. Much like Game 2, the Cats led at every turn. The quintets once again played without the fans. By the match conclusion, Cotton had his second 30-point game of the series and Nick Kay chipped in with twelve caroms. Tate once again led the Kings, putting up twenty in a losing effort. When the clock ran out, it was Perth 111 against Sydney, 96. Game 4 was supposed to be played in Perth last Friday. However, with the Kings unwilling to jet to Perth, the remainder of the Finals was cancelled. In fairness to the Kings, there were already restrictions being placed on air travel.
The semi-professional league then announced that they will deliberate on the outcome of the series. The Wildcats immediately lobbied for them to be crowned as champions, given they were up 2-1 and that the Kings eschewed travelling for a Game 4. Shortly thereafter, the NBL announced that they were indeed handing the Cats the 2020 trophy while Cotton won his third Finals MVP. While some might not agree with the decision, remember that the Cats won two road games in this series and were hosting Game 4 for the clincher. This marks the tenth title for the Perth outfit since they joined in 1982. They have won four of the last five overall and have raised six banners since 2010.
This year’s NBL has not been short of storylines. For starters, Hawks guard LaMelo Ball proved that he belonged. He staked his claim for the number one NBA pick with his well-rounded game. The Breakers’ RJ Hampton was equally impressive. The future NBAer showed poise beyond his years, earning praise from hoops legend Chris Paul. Tenacious guard Damian Martin was also a key to the Cats’ victory. His ball-hawking, hustle, and deflections were winning plays for Perth. He’s been a vital cog, if not a staple, for the club all these years later. This year’s championship was also notable for being near-unchartered territory for the Kings’ Brad Newley. In sixteen years as a pro in Europe and the NBL, a chip has eluded Newley. Nine teams competed in this year’s NBL season, with four advancing to the postseason. There were 9 matches in the semis, with the Cairns Taipans and Melbourne United losing to the eventual finalists. The record attendance for the season was 17,514 in the Kings-Hawks matchup, while average attendance was 6,903. The league has called time on the season due to Coronavirus fears, but it’s made a springboard for future success, whether locally or abroad.