The Perth Wildcats have cruised into the NBL grand final with a stunning 15-point win over the Illawarra Hawks in the third game of their semi-final at Perth Arena.
The Cats will host game one of the play-off against the Breakers in Perth on Wednesday after a brilliant defensive effort by the Cats resulted in a 89-74 win, stamped by a spectacular Casey Prather dunk that gave them an 18-point lead with seven minutes to go.
Conversely, Illawarra just found it too tough to score, particularly in the first half.
Even with the league's MVP, Kevin Lisch, returning from a sprained ankle, they looked incapable of scoring the 104 points they managed to win game two and force the decider.
Wildcats coach Trevor Gleeson said when the Cats were locked in defensively the way they were against the Hawks, they were "darn good".
"Coming back from Wollongong on Monday was a long day (after the loss) and we were really mad with ourselves with what we dished up, he said.
"I was real pleased with the preparation. I thought tonight was four quarters of real Wildcats basketball."
Lisch finished with just 11 points, while Kirk Penney led the Hawks scoring with 18. Oscar Foreman, who top scored in that last meeting with 21 points, managed only three.
Jermaine Beale and Jess Wagstaff led scoring to the Cats, with 17 each.
The third quarter was when things went terribly wrong for the visitors. They scored just 14 points to the Cats' 21 for the term, and the lead blew out to 14 points.
The pressure showed on the Hawks, especially Andrew Ogilvy, who had starred in the win over the Cats earlier in the week with 20 points, but had just seven on the board when he shaped up to Prather.
A scuffle broke out between the two and Ogilvy was shoved to the ground, forcing the referees to stop the game for a couple of minutes before issuing both players with unsportsmanlike fouls.
Rob Beveridge said he left Perth proud, despite not making into the grand final
"I'm super proud of that group. You look at where the club was; bottom of the ladder, six wins finished in third place, one or two wins off first place. That's pretty special.
"Our players are upset and disappointed that we didn't play the style that we wanted to, but, right now, I walk away with my head high."
Perth had control for most of the contest, taking a 49-42 advantage into the main break after working hard for each point. Only eight of them came from the paint (compared to the Wildcats 32). Illawarra had 17 points from the free-throw line and 15 earned from three-point range.
After leading by four at quarter-time, two long range shots from Wagstaff sparked the Cats at the start of the second term. And when Prather got on the end of a Jermaine Beal alley-oop pass three minutes after the break, the Cats lead blew out to nine.
Beale scored six of his nine second-term points quickly afterwards to have 12 at the main break.
Game one of the grand final series will be held at the Perth Arena on Wednesday, March 2 and game two in Auckland on Friday, March 4.
The third game, if required, will again be played at the Wildcats' home court, on Sunday, March 6.