The Perth Wildcats have scored an emphatic and crucial 113-94 victory over the Sydney Kings at Challenge Stadium, Perth.
The win takes Perth two games clear of Sydney in third spot on the NBL ladder and in reaching distance of second-placed Brisbane thanks to an impressive home stand.
After a tense first half that saw six-points as the biggest lead, the Wildcats were able to extend that to eight by three quarter-time and 19 by the final buzzer.
The Kings were hoping to regroup from a terrible loss to Melbourne last Friday and Jason Smith kick started them with what could be the best individual quarter of the NBL season.
The Boomer squad member finished the quarter with 15 points, including three long-range bombs. He had 13 of Sydney’s first 15-points in the game.
Due to an impressive second half by the Wildcats his contributions weren’t enough and the struggles of Brian Goorjian’s men continue.
The key to the Wildcats last two big home wins was their starts, but this was the complete opposite after a hard-fought opening.
Unlike the Breakers and Hawks, Sydney were able to stick with the home side for the first half, but Perth dominated the second half outscoring the Kings 60-44.
In what is becoming a feature of their play when on-song, the Wildcats had an even contribution right across the board.
The ever-reliable Shawn Redhage again filled the box score with 18-points, eight rebounds and five assists.
But it was new recruit Damien Ryan that excited Perth fans the most. He finished with 15-points in his first appearance for the Wildcats.
Fellow guard Darren Brooks also had 15-points, with Peter Crawford, Ben Hunt and captain Paul Rogers scoring 13 and Jeff Dowdell 12.
Smith finished with 25-points for the Kings. He went quiet for almost two quarters before seven quick points during the third.
His best support came from forward Mark Worthington, who had 15-points, but very little apart from that, particularly inside.
Under-pressure import Rodney Elliott needed a good performance to ensure the Kings stick with him, but he failed to do so and will undergo a nervous wait on his future with the club.
The Wildcats were thrilled to secure the services of the former Boomers and Brisbane guard Ryan last weekend and made an immediate impact.
He made his first appearance with two-minutes remaining in the first-quarter and made an immediate impact. He dropped two three-pointers, including one to beat the buzzer.
He added another three-pointer during the second-quarter to end a four-minute Wildcats scoring drought and had six free-throws in the second half.
He is sure to be a more than adequate replacement for Adam Caporn, who is out for the season after undergoing knee surgery. Caporn was having a great first season with the Wildcats, but Ryan’s shooting and big game experience will be important come play-off time.
The win takes the Wildcats record on the season to 14-6, with only one home loss from 10 matches. Their final home game in the current four-game stretch will be on Wednesday against Singapore.
The loss sees Sydney’s top-two chances almost gone and leaves them struggling to hold onto fourth spot as they prepare to host Cairns on Wednesday at home.
Any doubt that the Perth Wildcats were championship contenders was put to rest last night with their emphatic win over Sydney. Recruit Damien Ryan had a great first up game with 15 points.
“He has worked hard since the day he got here and has picked up our system really quick,” said coach Scott Fisher.
“It was almost like he’s been here for two months, not a week. He’s a smart player, can make something out of nothing and it’s exciting for us.”
Ryan is delighted to be back in Australia from Italy and the former Boomer squad member was happy with his start, two three-pointers in the first-quarter.
“It was good to come out and start well. It’s great to be back in Australia and part of a good team like the Wildcats,” said Ryan.
“I was pretty pumped before the game and even more after those first couple of shots fell. I got a good solid week in with a couple of training sessions and we run a pretty simple system, but it’s effective.”
Sydney and Australian coach Brian Goorjian was also impressed with Ryan’s shooting, but he has more to prove before regaining his Boomers spot.
“He was really good. He shot the ball well and adds more depth to what they’ve got. He makes them tougher and gives them more depth,” said Goorjian.
“We’ve been working for four years with our Australian squad and he has missed everything due to injury. We will see how he goes over the course of the year, but we will definitely bring him in to the first camp and give him an opportunity.”
Fisher was ecstatic with his team’s performance all round and has no trouble believing the Wildcats can win the championship.
“That was the most important game of the year and gives us a nice buffer over the Sydney Kings and it’s a great feeling. We’ve talked about the need for depth and to get something off the bench and the last three games it has worked out great,” he said.
“We got contributions from everybody and when we get seven guys getting 12 or more points, we will win. We’ve got great depth now and we are going to be there and have a say in who wins this thing.”
There will be no rest for the Wildcats, with practice on Christmas Day, but players can expect some Christmas cheer after three wins on the trot.
“It’s the life of a professional basketball player,” said Fisher.
“We will start at 8 o’clock, will be exchanging gifts and Santa will come, hopefully. We will train Boxing Day as well and then beat up on Singapore.”