Perth claim NBL finals opener over Kings

Matt Encarnacion
Bryce Cotton (R) scored a game-high 32 points in Perth's win over the Sydney Kings

Bryce Cotton has shown why he is the NBL MVP after steering Perth to an 88-86 victory over the Sydney Kings in an enthralling opening game of the finals.

Cotton scored a game-high 32 points, including eight in the decisive final term, as the Wildcats stole home-court advantage in the five-game series.

"He was gassed towards the end and playing a lot of minutes, but I know he's got a little bit of reserve there," Wildcats coach Trevor Gleeson said of Cotton's outing.

"Just his elevation to get the shot off under pressure, he shoots the ball and it looks like it's going in every single time. I'm actually shocked when he misses."

Cotton's vintage performance was in stark contrast to a horror outing from counterpart Casper Ware, who was held to just four points.

The Kings star missed his opening 11 shots on Sunday night before finally getting his first bucket at the free throw line early in the final quarter.

Ware, who also turned the ball over five times, did not hit a field goal until just two minutes remained in the contest.

Having failed to connect on his first nine attempts from long range, he had a chance to steal victory with the final shot of the game from long-distance.

But his shot went long.

Asked whether it was a tough decision to stick with Ware in the final term despite his shooting struggles, Weaver said: "No. I'm interested to hear your opinion, but my opinion is no."

With Ware out of touch, experienced pair Andrew Bogut (18 points, 12 boards) and Kevin Lisch (17 points), did most of the heavy lifting for the Kings at Qudos Bank Arena.

But it was not enough to stop the defending champions, who are now two wins away from claiming a fifth title in seven years.

Game two is at RAC Arena in Perth on Friday night.

The Wildcats had an answer for every Kings run, which began with Jae'Sean Tate and Bogut being aggressive on offence seven points each in the opening quarter.

However the home side were also unable to slow down Cotton, who took full advantage of the Kings' deep defensive schemes with 10 points at the first break.

Spurred by another three Bogut buckets early in the second period, Sydney looked ready to break open the game as they opened up a nine-point lead.

But the Wildcats clawed their way back by going 11 of 12 at the charity stripe, and closing on a 20-8 run, to claim a three-point halftime advantage.

Undeterred at losing their lead, the Kings threatened to blow the contest apart in the third off the back of a three-point explosion from Lisch.

The former MVP, who cracked double figures for the first time since October, nailed three straight bombs, helping Sydney to a five-point lead at the final break.

From there the Kings struggled to convert on numerous chances to seal victory in the final term, while Cotton and Damian Martin hit clutch shots to claim an upset.