A horror third-quarter tonight has left the New Zealand Breakers facing a huge battle to get past defending champions Perth and make the Australian National Basketball League (ANBL) final.
The Wildcats, with American import Kevin Lisch in superb form with a game-high 29 points, won game one of the best-of-three semifinal 101-78 in Auckland.
They will now have the chance to clinch the semifinal on home court, with game two in Perth on Sunday.
The Breakers claimed the minor premiership by a wide margin over the rest of the field with a 22-6 win-loss record. Perth was fourth at 16-12.
But that difference counted for little at the North Shore Events Centre and the Wildcats will fancy their chances of finishing the job in Perth, having overwhelmed the Breakers by 40 points there in the regular season.
The Breakers' renowned depth was sorely tested, with defensive stalwart Mika Vukona limping off with the knee injury after less than four minutes.
Vukona was felled by a collision with teammate Kirk Penney and the early diagnosis was a strained medial ligament.
He is due to have scans tomorrow.
As well, import Gary Wilkinson, named this week in the ANBL's first team along Penney, appeared to still be labouring under the effects of a bronchial problem, although he still finished with 16 points and seven rebounds.
In Vukona's absence, Perth dominated the boards, as they did in the sides' last meeting in February, when the Breakers sneaked home 82-79.
They outbounded the Breakers 47-26, with Stephen Weigh, Matthew Knight and Andrew Brown each pulling down eight of them.
Vukona got proceedings off with an eye-catching start, a one-handed dunk bringing up the first points of the contest.
It was the signal for a fast start from the Breakers, whose better shooting helped them to a 31-23 lead after the first quarter.
Their field goal percentage over the first 10 minutes was an impressive 69 percentage.
A Penney three-pointer took the home side out to an early 10-2 advantage.
Fellow guard CJ Bruton was also successful from long distance as he followed a two-pointer with a shot from beyond the arc to take the Breakers out to 19-12.
However, the Wildcats' work on the boards meant they remained well in contention, with their offensive rebounding continuing to give them numerous second opportunities.
They began the second half much sharper, drew level and finally hit the lead at 38-36 thanks to a Knight basket.
The remainder of the quarter was a seesawing battle, before a Tom Abercrombie two-pointer for the Breakers tied the scores 52-52 at halftime.
Abercrombie was to finish as his team's top scorer with 17 points.
Perth made their move in the next period, with Lisch on fire, bagging 13 of the Wildcats' points in that quarter, which the visitors won 24-10.
Perth maintained their intensity over the final stretch to ensure there was no dramatic comeback from the opposition.