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WW - 36ers V Wildcats, September 20, 1989

WAYBACK Wednesday was a weekly feature I wrote last season for Adelaide 36ers website, which now you can revisit, see for the first time or completely ignore!



IT came from no-where. Well, not exactly no-where. But it came from an unexpected source as Perth prepared to head back to the West with a 1-0 lead and unlikely to need both games to wrap the 1989 elimination final series.

Instead, the West End 36ers produced a mind-blowing last-quarter comeback to beat the Wildcats by two points in a riveting Hungry Jack's National Basketball League elimination final at Apollo.

Perth led by 12 points early in the final term but the 36ers stormed home on the back of a Mike McKay shooting spree to clinch a 124-122 victory in the first match in the best-of-three series.

Much-maligned American forward Orlando Phillips, in his first and ultimately only season with the 36ers, scored the winning points from close range with only three seconds remaining as the capacity crowd threatened to lift the roof off the stadium.

The Sixers still faced a long haul in their quest for a second NBL championship trophy to sit astride their 1986 title but Game 1’s result was just the tonic to lift their flagging spirits.

There was certainly much to be admired about their revival, full of poise and character sufficient even to bring a smile to the face of under-siege coach Gary Fox.

“What a great effort,” Fox said.

“It's got to be a confidence-lifter, given the pressure we've been under.

“It gives me a lot of satisfaction but it's only one game.

“I told the guys to savour it for one hour and then forget about it because it’s history.”

Adelaide appeared to be history itself early in the last quarter as Perth, confident and assured, scored the first basket to extend its lead to 105-93. As if that was not bad enough for the 36ers, Phillips, Mark Davis and Mark Bradtke all were nursing four fouls.

But with the pressure on them as rarely before, the 36ers responded in a manner not demonstrated in a finals match since the first game of the 1987 semi-final series, coincidentally also against Perth.

This time it was McKay who led the charge.

Stung by widespread criticism of his recent form and attitude, ‘Mad Max’ responded in the best possible manner by banging in a 3-pointer to reduce the deficit to single figures.

Adelaide, which had failed to run its offence with any conviction in the second and third quarters, continued to charge at Perth, scoring 10 points without reply.

It hit the front less than midway through the term when McKay nailed another 3-pointer.

The 36ers also increased their defensive intensity and swept as far ahead as five with only a few minutes remaining.

Of course, Perth hit back.

Superstar guard Cal Bruton, who had been too good offensively for a variety of opponents in the first three quarters, was held scoreless for 11 minutes of the last term.

But he broke loose to put Perth one point up 50 seconds from full time, even though he incurred a charging foul in the process.

The climactic last minute was basketball at its most exciting.

With 22 seconds remaining, Al Green stole the ball and was fouled moments later by Eric Watterson.

Green converted his first shot from the line to level the scores but missed the second.

Peter Ali, who had played most of the last quarter because of his defensive qualities, grabbed the rebound and gave the ball back to Green.

“Mean” Al ran the clock down to six seconds before firing up a three-point attempt.

The shot missed but Phillips grabbed the rebound and made no mistake with his close-range effort, amid pandemonium at Apollo.

If Phillips was going to be remembered for anything - other than questionable anecdotes about his days with the LA Lakers - it always would be for that shot.

Adelaide won despite shooting only 47 per cent from the floor, while Perth was stroking it at 59 per cent.

The Sixers, however, won the boards 53-38 as Davis, Bradkte and Phillips proved too strong for Perth's vaunted frontcourt.

McKay's four 3-pointers in the last quarter played a major part in Adelaide's victory and fellow guard Darryl Pearce played a significant offensive role for longer periods, scoring all of his 25 points in the first three quarters.

For Perth, Bruton was unstoppable for three quarters on his way to a match-high 35 points at 61 per cent.

In the euphoria of victory, the 36ers’ failure in a zone defence, forced upon them mainly by early foul trouble, clearly meant more work ahead of Game 2 in Perth.

But they were heading West as winners. It as a short-lived joy.

Sep 24

Content, unless otherwise indicated, is © copyright Boti Nagy.