When it comes to describing the Perth Wildcats of 2018-2019 the phrase quality, not quantity, is most apt.
Everyone said they needed three imports to be a contender, they backed Bryce Cotton and Terrico White to do the job.
When every team was chasing big guns, they went and signed young Aussies Nick Kay and Mitch Norton, and when the doubters came they went deep into their reserves and found a way to grind out wins.
On Sunday in Melbourne, the Wildcats claimed one of their most unlikely of NBL championships with a 97-84 win over Melbourne United and a 3-1 series victory.
And they did it in the same stubborn style that served them so well this season.
At the defensive end they battled and won the physical contest,s then they gave the ball to Cotton and White and empowered them to win the title.
Perth didn’t always win the quarters this series but the won the moments and they controlled the momentum in the process.
Cotton was immense in the first half with 18 of his 28 points, and he added four assists to boot.
White had three fouls at half-time but still bounced back to make some pivotal buckets in the second half to finish with 20 points.
White won the Larry Sengstock Medal as grand final MVP and it was fitting, as he was the player most under pressure for much of this season.
Kay (12 points, 10 rebounds) was a tower of strength in the paint and a link-man in the offence as the ball swung between Cotton and White. If the Boomers need an extra big man for this year’s FIBA World Cup, don’t be surprised to see him on the roster.
Then around the edges came veteran Damian Martin (five points, six assists, three steals) and his understudy Norton (11 points) who each had a handful of baskets, mostly lay-ups which culled Melbourne’s momentum and the noise of 10,007 home supporters.
Casper Ware led Melbourne with 18 points and four assists while David Barlow and Chris Goulding had 15 points each. Barlow broke the NBL record for finals games, playing his 26th on Sunday.
This game belonged to Perth for much of the afternoon but Melbourne tried their best to jump out of the coffin, coming back from eight points down in the first term and a 12-point deficit in the second.
But Perth’s quality and dedication to their craft wore down the reigning champions as Ware and McCarron (12 points, three blocks) tried to silence Cotton and couldn’t maintain their usual offensive production.
With a 68-57 lead going into the last term, Perth kept finding baskets even as Melbourne pressed, scrapped and made a desperate comeback.
There were multiple chances to put the full stop on the title and it finally came with three minutes to play as White pulled in an offensive rebound then finished with a dunk, Cotton nailed a three and, after at time-out, Kay finished a three-point play.
The Wildcats have been the standard-bearers of the NBL for the past 30 years and even as the likes of Andrew Bogut come back to the league, they remain the best club in the business.
Their nine NBL titles is five better than anyone else, and this season’s title sees Martin and teammate Jesse Wagstaff become just the fifth and sixth players to win five or more titles in NBL history and the first to do it with one club.
In the final minute, Wildcats coach Trevor Gleeson put retiring veteran Greg Hire into the game. Hire pulled in a rebound and knocked down two late free throws. He finished with the ball and his teammates mobbing him.
Just like his Perth had done all season, Hire made the most of what he had, when he had it.