Star import Bryce Cotton overcame a slow start to help power the Perth Wildcats to a 89-77 victory over the Illawarra Hawks in game one of the best-of-five NBL grand final series at Perth Arena.
Cotton was scoreless and looking off his game midway through the second term as the Hawks opened up an eight-point lead.
But the former NBA guard shot to life before half-time, nailing 11 points in a six-minute flurry to reverse the momentum.
Cotton finished with 18 points, while Casey Prather (22) and Matt Knight (18) were also crucial in the hard-fought win.
Wildcats captain Damian Martin starred in defence, even producing a spectacular block in the first term when the Wildcats were struggling for momentum.
Cody Ellis (12 points) top scored for the Hawks, while Tim Coenraad, Rhys Martin, and Rotnei Clarke were next best with 11 points apiece.
Hawks big man AJ Ogilvy entered the match under an injury cloud after twice rolling his ankle in Thursday’s semi-final win over Adelaide.
Ogilvy was given the green light to face the Wildcats but his impact was minimal off limited minutes.
The Hawks are hopeful import Marvelle Harris will return for game two at the WIN Entertainment Centre on Wednesday.
Harris missed the grand final opener after flying to the US to be with his sick father.
The Wildcats made a nervous start to the match, with Cotton’s unusually quiet start allowing the Hawks to open up a 26-21 lead by the first break.
The margin would have been greater if it wasn’t for the hot hand of Knight, who drained 10 points on five-of-six shooting.
A nervous energy spread through the crowd as the Hawks opened up an eight-point lead but Cotton eased the tension with an inspired six minutes to end the half.
Cotton nailed his first points of the match with a clutch three and the 24-year-old nailed another two long bombs before the long break.
Cotton’s heroics helped the Wildcats draw level by half-time, and the home side asserted their dominance in the third quarter, opening up a handy 68-62 advantage heading into the final term.
Hawks forward Cody Ellis threatened to steal the match with a series of shots, closing the margin to just three points early in the final term.
But the Wildcats were able to weather the storm and then pull away in front of their adoring fans.