March 2, 2024 | Perth Lynx news

Enough was enough. That was the stand the Perth Lynx wanted to make as they returned to the Tropics for the WNBL semi finals with the Townsville Fire and coach Ryan Petrik couldn’t have been happier to leave with the Game 1 victory.

The Lynx delivered a superb Game 1 performance on Thursday night in the second half to score the 88-87 victory for a first win against the Fire since March 18, 2022, to now be within one win of a Grand Final spot with Game 2 at Bendat Basketball Centre on Sunday.

Coming into a second straight semi-final series between the two teams and Townsville had won nine straight matches against Perth and it had been almost two years since the Lynx had tasted victory against last season’s WNBL champions.

While the Lynx have held up well against the rest of the competition in that time having made the Grand Final in 2022, semi finals in 2023 and now getting back to the finals again in 2024, Petrik felt they had been outmuscled, and somewhat bullied by the Fire.

Never was that more evident than the two-game stand in Townsville to close 2023 and bring in 2024 with the Fire winning both by a combined 36 points while the Lynx were still in a cloud of trying to figure out life without Aari McDonald after her knee injury suffered just days earlier.

Across those two games and Townsville pulled down 81 rebounds to 73 from Perth, scored 33 second chance points to 15, scored 90 points in the paint to 60 and 35 points off turnovers to 20.

However, it was a Perth team with a focused mindset to stand their ground and not be bullied again this semi-final series.

They did well to stay within striking distance during the first half despite not shooting well and then caught fire in spectacular fashion with a 21-3 start to the second half.

As impressive as the scoring was, the defence was even better to close down the Fire for the eventual one-point in a thrilling finish.

Enough was enough

From Petrik’s perspective, it was time for the Lynx to make a stand against the Fire and stop being pushed around by them, and he was delighted that they put those thoughts into action.

“Generally the refs will let you play a little bit more come finals time and it can change from game to game like what happened when we were up here for those two straight games,” Petrik said.

“Win, lose or draw, we’ll lose a scrap or a fight, but we’re just not going to get beaten up by these guys any longer because they’ve bullied us for a while.

“We know they are loaded with talent but they just always seem to win the physical fight against us. That second game up here during the season, we said enough’s enough and you saw a lot of that in this game.”

Relief after missed opportunities

After Thursday night’s win and while Petrik was a mixture of relieved and delighted to get the Game 1 victory on the road against the defending champs, he was still calming down from it potentially being more heart stopping than it needed to be.

Down the stretch, the Lynx made a combined 1/7 from the foul line on three consecutive possessions meaning it kept Townsville in the contest and eventually Sami Whitcomb hit a three to put the home team in front.

Aari McDonald did end up making a driving layup after her lightning first step gave her that space to win the game for Perth, but prior to that and the bevy of missed opportunities the Lynx had to seal the deal had Petrik fearing the worst.

“It felt like we left 40 layups and 30 free-throws on the court and just couldn’t knock them out, and then I thought they played a really good fourth quarter,” he said.

“I’m happy to get out of there with the win. When you look up at the scoreboard and you’re up double-digits in the third, your brain just goes into crazy town and you start thinking what’s next, but you just can’t do that against Townsville.

“So we’ve got some stuff to clean up from the fourth but overall really happy with the game.”

Cleaning up things the focus

While there was a lot for Petrik to like with what the Lynx produced for the Game 1 win in Townsville especially in the second half, his focus heading into Sunday’s Game 2 is continuing to tidy up some areas and he knows that has to happen if they want to reach the Grand Final.

“We obviously went over a lot of tape the last four days to prepare for Townsville in that Game 1 and we thought we had a pretty good handle on it, but they still got away with some stuff that we thought we had covered,” Petrik said.

“We will look to clean up some stuff and there’s not a lot of secrets at this time of year, you generally know each other inside and out, and we’ve played Townsville more than anyone else the last two years.

“We do have to clean some things up from our end more than anything else because once we get our defence going, it can make a big difference. Everyone will go off about how well we shoot the ball at times, but it was our third quarter defence that we were really impressed with.”

The elite Aari McDonald

It’s no coincidence that before and after the knee injury to Aari McDonald that the Lynx have looked to be genuine championship contenders this WNBL season.

While she was still named to the All-WNBL Second Team, there’s every chance she would have been MVP had it not been for the missed eight games and she continues to make a remarkably strong case to be the league’s best player.

That was again on show on Thursday night in Townsville where she finished with 26 points and nine assists but Petrik knows what a perfectionist she is and that she won’t be happy with some missed buckets and six turnovers.

“She’s elite and just having the ball in her hands late, especially if she’s going to shoot the three like that, I don’t know how you stop her,” Petrik said.

“She’s electric quick and can shoot the three as well so you can’t go over on the screens, you can’t go under and you certainly can’t show or hedge against her.

“It really limits your choices and then if we can put enough shooting around her, you can’t really come to help from anywhere. It’s essentially the same problem we’ve had trying to stop Steph Reid the last three or four years.

“Aari wasn’t ecstatic post-game because she felt like she missed a thousand layups and that was their adjustment in the fourth for her to get to the rim. We got there but just couldn’t finish but Aari McDonald is elite.”