Forget the off-season changes and who was absent, the Perth Wildcats just know how to win, and with Vic Law delivering a debut to savor, they proved too much beating the Adelaide 36ers 85-73 on NBL opening night.
Many have been predicting this could be the end of a 35-season playoff streak for the Wildcats with a new coach for the first time in eight years who they only met days before the Blitz and some big early injuries, but write off the league’s most successful franchise at your peril.
The 36ers arrived in Perth fresh off, winning the NBL Blitz and going through undefeated, including two wins over the Wildcats, but it was a different story to open the NBL season proper on Friday night in front of 11,950 fans at RAC Arena.
The Wildcats didn’t have import Michael Frazier nor key duo Todd Blanchfield and Mitch Norton, while new signing Matt Hodgson lasted just a minute before limping from the court and not returning.
However, it just didn’t matter, and the combination between Vic Law and Bryce Cotton sent shivers through the rest of the NBL.
It was Law’s first night with the ‘Cats after starring in Brisbane last season before getting hurt. He finished with a remarkable 37 points and four rebounds on 16/28 shooting from the field, with Adelaide having no answers for his inside-outside game and confidence.
Sixers coach CJ Bruton wasn’t surprised with what Law delivered, having worked so closely with him when he was assistant coach last season at the Bullets.
“Vic Law told me he was going to do that. He told me in the pre-season after we shut him down, and he didn’t get very many looks, he was very upset, which is Vic Law,” Bruton said post-match.
“I do know what type of player he is and what he’s capable of doing, and he did what the rest of the NBL should know he can do. As for Bryce Cotton, I thought he worked hard, and we did a good job on him, and I thought we did a good job on most of their players throughout the game.”
As for Law himself, he was surprised by Bruton’s comments but not with the performance he delivered on debut with the Wildcats.
“It’s funny that CJ said that. I was just going out there trying to do what I could. We had a lot of distractions and things that we could have used as an excuse to falter in this game, but I thought we did a good job,” Law said.
“It’s going to be fun playing CJ, especially if he has answers like that, but it felt good being in front of the Red Army tonight. I didn’t know I took 29 shots, but I was getting them up, wasn’t I?
“When you get into a flow and rhythm like that, it feels really good just to do that and to come off that injury. I feel like pure excitement and joy playing in front of a crowd like that. It felt like I was back in college, so it was exciting for sure.”
Cotton also put up 16 points, five rebounds, four assists, and two steals for the Wildcats, while rising star Luke Travers was impressive with 15 points, five rebounds, and three steals.
Majok Majok had to step up in the absence of Hodgson, and he did with nine points and 12 rebounds after a year out through injury.
The 36ers weren’t at full strength either, with Sunday Dech, Kai Sotto, Hyrum Harris, and Manny Malou all not playing, but they just had no answers for Perth’s import combination despite 22 points and seven rebounds from Daniel Johnson.
Cam Bairstow impressed with 15 points and six rebounds, too, while Dusty Hannahs had a rough shooting night going 5/15 but still had 10 points and five rebounds. Fellow import Todd Withers was efficient with seven points and ten rebounds on just four shots.
The Wildcats made a fast start in front of the packed RAC Arena, and when Vic Law drained a three, they were up 7-2. However, they got sloppy with the ball from there, which allowed Adelaide back into the game and to take the lead with Cam Bairstow hitting a three-ball.
Despite a 6-0 Adelaide run from Bairstow and new import Todd Withers, Law put up 11 first-quarter points to help Perth to the 22-19 quarter-time edge.
Daniel Johnson didn’t score in the first term, but that soon changed and 12 points in six minutes of the second period saw him keep Adelaide within touch of Adelaide despite what Law and Cotton were doing for Perth.
Law was proving unstoppable on his way to 21 points at half-time, but with Bairstow also putting up 13 for Adelaide, Perth’s lead was just four at the break despite the combined 32 points on 12/20 shooting from Law and Cotton.
The rest of the ‘Cats only had 15 points at half-time on 5/15 shooting while the Sixers dominated the boards with 23 to 15.
Mitch McCarron hit four quick points to start the second half and level scores up, and Mojave King hit a couple of shots on consecutive Adelaide possessions.
The Sixers briefly took the lead after a couple of flop calls against Perth, but Law closed the third term with another four quick points, including a buzzer-beater to go to 29 for the game with the ‘Cats up 70-63.
Law opened up the fourth term with an and-one play before Travers knocked down a three to extend the lead for Perth to double-figures. Law closed the door on Adelaide with his third triple to keep the lead at ten before his new club won the season opener by 12.
Both teams have a short turnaround to playing on Sunday with the Sixers at home to the Illawarra Hawks while the Wildcats remain at RAC Arena to host the Cairns Taipans.