ADELAIDE 36ers’ rebuild following last summer’s grand final disappointment remains a work in progress after a frustrating season-opening loss to their oldest rival.
The SA club slumped to an 99-91 defeat to Perth Wildcats in Thursday night’s round-one National Basketball League clash at Adelaide Arena.
It came 194 days after the Sixers’ championship decider reverse to Melbourne United and an off-season during which key men Mitch Creek, Shannon Shorter and Josh Childress departed.
The Sixers were at times sloppy in possession, conceding 17 points from turnovers, and wasteful in offence, converting just 21 per cent of attempts from outside the arc.
Adelaide trailed by 15 midway through the third period, but rallied to hit the front early in the final term led by Daniel Johnson (23 points, 10 rebounds) and Nathan Sobey (20).
A late masterclass by last season’s league MVP Bryce Cotton, who landed eight straight points to hand the Wildcats a matchwinning advantage, proved decisive.
Sobey hit a hook shot with 51 seconds left on the clock to cut the visitors’ lead to three.
But Cotton (22 points) iced Perth’s victory by holding his nerve from the free-throw line to leave the 36ers searching for answers ahead of Saturday’s road trip to face Sydney Kings.
The night started solidly for the home side as the Wildcats needed a late Jesse Wagstaff three-pointer to tie the game up at the end of a seesawing opening period.
Returning US import Ramone Moore had earlier hit a three to record Adelaide’s first points of the campaign.
Cotton pushed the Wildcats out to a slender lead, but Dominican recruit Adris DeLeon was on target from long range to regain the Sixers’ advantage.
Fellow new boy Harry Froling converted an offensive rebound, before Clint Steindl and Wagstaff landed threes to level the scores.
Perth pushed out to a seven-point half-time buffer as Terrico White and Nicholas Kay (10 points each for the half) took control for the visitors.
Stiendl, Kay and Norton each hit threes early in the second quarter, before newly-installed Sixers captain Johnson grabbed back-to-back buckets.
A big Rhys Vague dunk took Perth to a lead of 11, but two more conversions for Johnson (15 for the half) kept Adelaide in touch at the main break.
The Wildcats jumped out to a 15-point lead in the third quarter thanks to Damian Martin’s jump shot.
But a Sixers revival, sparked by US recruit Jacob Wiley (13 points, nine rebounds), clawed that buffer back to one at the last change.
A big Johnson dunk followed by another DeLeon three got the ball rolling, before Wiley grabbed a crucial bucket and kept his cool from the line.
Veteran Nathan Teys sunk a long ranger for the hosts and Wiley handed them the lead only for Kay to hit a jump shot on the buzzer to keep Perth’s nose in front.
PERTH WILDCATS 99 (B Cotton 22 T White 20 N Kay 18) ADELAIDE 36ERS 91 (D Johnson 23 N Sobey 20 J Wiley 13) at Titanium Security Arena.
Foxtel is your home for LIVE NBA, NBL & WNBL action. SIGN UP TODAY!