THE Perth Wildcats are now within one win of a record-extending sixth NBL championship after beating the Adelaide 36ers in a hard fought Game 1 of the grand final series at Perth Arena on Monday night.
Having finished as minor premiers and then winning into a third straight NBL grand final series, the Wildcats earned home-court advantage for the first and last games of the three-match series against the 36ers.
And despite the Sixers staging a spirited comeback in the dying minutes to close to within three points with 12 seconds left, they had too much to do down the stretch and Perth closed out the victory at the free-throw line to end up winning 92-85 in front of 13,291 fans at the Perth Arena.
The Wildcats were shooting hot early but ended the game with just 26-of-65 at 40 per cent from the field and 9-of-28 from downtown at 32 per cent with the 36ers' percentages better in both, but Perth got the better end of the referee's calls.
Perth ended up going to the line 47 times to Adelaide's just 13 in the biggest discrepancy in any NBL grand final match.
Game 2 will now take place at the Adelaide Arena with the 36ers needing to win to force a deciding Game 3 back in Perth on Sunday.
However, the challenge is all ahead of Adelaide now with the last 15 NBL champions having one the first game of the grand final series.
Remarkably, despite the Wildcats and 36ers having won nine NBL championships between them and having played one another on 110 occasions in history in what is likely the most storied rivalry in the league history, this is the first grand final series between Perth and Adelaide.
Despite Adelaide's woeful outcomes in recent seasons, it has always managed to play well against Perth and right throughout this 2013/14 campaign, the Sixers and Wildcats were clearly the two best teams in the competitions setting up a salivating grand final.
Both teams scored one tight and one thumping win on their home floor during the regular season, but much of the excitement for the grand final was based on what happened last time in Perth when every player, and members of the coaching staffs became part of a heated post-match scuffle.
No love was lost between the two clubs and that was especially the case when the NBL took no action against any player or coach, but Monday night's opening game of the grand final series didn’t see anything spill over despite a heated atmosphere, and physical battle.
Despite anointing himself as the league's MVP, James Ennis wasn’t named the winner last week by the NBL and even though his behaviour subsequently shows how much growing up he has to do before hoping for an NBA career, he felt he had a point to prove.
The deserved Rotnei Clarke got the nod as MVP for his efforts leading the Wollongong Hawks into the playoffs, but the immature and at times petulant but hugely talented Ennis delivered in Game 1 on Monday.
He scored 30 points to go with 10 rebounds and four assists on the back of shooting 5-of-7 from the field, and 14-of-17 from the charity stripe.
His haul of 30 points was the most scored in a grand final match since the NBL reverted to 10-minute quarters for the 2009/10 season.
Ennis received strong support from his fellow import as well with Jermaine Beal finishing with 19 points.
Veteran, and championship-winning captain from 2010, Shawn Redhage scored 13 points to go with five rebounds and four assists while Greg Hire contributed 10 points, seven boards and two assists despite being quick to flop at every opportunity.
Wildcats captain Damian Martin was also outstanding with four points, four assists, four rebounds, two blocks and two steals while his defence on 36ers star import point guard Gary Ervin was superb.
Ervin finished with just eight point and four rebounds on 2-of-8 shooting from the field.
Daniel Johnson started the game on fire for the 36ers and finished with a team-high 18 points and eight rebounds despite shooting just 6-of-20 from the field.
Hard nut Anthony Petrie worked hard for 14 points and six boards also for the Sixers with Brendan Teys continuing his run of NBL-best form this playoffs campaign with 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting.
Sixers captain Adam Gibson contributed 13 points and nine assists as well with Luke Schenscher battling hard up against the team he won a championship with finishing with 12 points and seven rebounds.