NBL Grand Final: Perth Wildcats’ keys to the series

Luke Travers will be a key for the Wildcats in the Grand Final series. Photo: @PerthWildcats Twitter

The Perth Wildcats are very much used to Grand Final appearances – but they aren’t familiar with being a heavy underdog.

Melbourne United, with their incredible depth and star power, will be expected to close out the best-of-five games series without too much fuss. They hold the series lead over the Cats by three games to two in NBL21.

So, what does Trevor Gleeson and his Wildcats need to get right in order to pull off a historic three-peat without their MVP Bryce Cotton?

These are the three keys to the Perth Wildcats’ success in the NBL Grand Final series.

Win the battle of the bigs

John Mooney and Will Magnay face Jock Landale and Jo Lual-Acuil. It’s a mouth watering match-up of some of the best big men in the league.

Mooney and Landale were both selected as first team All-NBL players on Wednesday night, Lual-Acuil picked up Sixth Man of the Year honours, while Magnay was targeted by Gleeson and brought over from the Bullets for this very reason. This series is why he is in Perth.

Mooney is easily the Wildcats’ most important game for this series.

He needs to defend Landale down on the block, but also be prepared to step up out of his drop coverage in pick and rolls. The Wildcats are an elite screen defence team, but Landale’s proven capacity to pop and hit threes (three-for-three in game three of the semi-finals) will test Mooney and his lateral quickness.

Mooney also averages a league-leading 11.4 rebounds per contest, which has fed into the Wildcats dominating second chance points in their wins.

With their two wins against United this season, the Wildcats have averaged 41 more possession points. That number is even with Melbourne in their losses.

If Perth can control the boards and get more looks at the rim, the game is blown wide open.

Live at the free throw line

Free throws mean two things: a United player has picked up a foul, and you’re getting a good offensive possession.

United is the deepest side in the league, but the Wildcats are the best team in the competition at getting to the line. Bryce Cotton was a big part of that, but Todd Blanchfield has made it his mission since Cotton’s absence to get to the charity stripe, and he has had 7.7 free throw attempts per game since.

We saw it in game three against Illawarra as well – Tyler Harvey picked up his fourth foul before half-time. He played tentatively on defence for the entire second half.

If the Perth Wildcats can force players like Scotty Hopson, Chris Goulding and Landale – who is susceptible to foul trouble – to think about their foul situation then they can take advantage in the paint and get United on the back foot.

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Trust Luke Travers

This rangy, long-haired 19-year-old is averaging four points per game in NBL21. So why is he a vital cog in the capacity for Perth to triumph?

Firstly, he’s something United hasn’t seen before, having played low minutes in four of their five regular season clashes (averaging 10 minutes a game) and shot 27 per cent from the field in their round 21 meeting.

But his first two games against Illawarra showcased his unbelievable ability on the court. At over two metres tall with an elite wingspan and a smooth, athletic game, he offers incredible transition potential, the possibility to switch multiple match-ups on defence, and a streaky scoring ability in which he can catch fire at any given moment.

Travers had 12 points and six rebounds in game one, then backed it up with 13 points, 10 rebounds and three assists to claim the must-win road game. Travers became the third youngest player in NBL history to record a playoff double-double.

He was kept quiet with a bad shooting night in game three, but still produced the moment of the night to seal the game.

Gleeson needs to trust the teenager with the ball at times because Mitch Norton can’t do it all. He needs to keep providing him minutes on the court (averaging 27 minutes in the finals) and he needs to find out what this kid is truly made of. Because the flashes of brilliance are there for all to see, and Travers could well be the player to take over this Grand Final series.

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About Jasper Chellappah 161 Articles
Jasper writes on Aussie Rules, basketball, tennis and netball for The Inner Sanctum. His main area is player analysis and under-age competitions, with a keen focus on the AFL Draft. He also lends his voice to The Checkside and the SuperCoach Sanctum PODcast each week.

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