March 16, 2024 | Perth Lynx news

Seven days earlier and the Perth Lynx were an unstoppable force so the focus is now to replicate that performance this Sunday in the deciding Grand Final Game 3 against the Southside Flyers, and if they can the WNBL championship could be theirs.

Coming out of the dramatic Game 2 Thursday night loss at home thanks to a shot on the buzzer from Flyers centre Mercedes Russell and everything that has happened since, and even looking back into history, and there’s plenty that could distract the Perth Lynx players and coach Ryan Petrik.

However, what Petrik wants to focus his and his playing group’s attention on is just trying to play Game 3 on their terms in Melbourne on Sunday with the WNBL championship at stake.

In a lot of ways it’s quite simple. If the things can have the game played at their tempo and pace, if they can closer follow the defensive scout like they did last Sunday in Game 1, and if they can find their offensive groove, then a drought breaking championship could be the reward.

There is a lot of outside noise, there’s no getting away from that. There is the 32-year championship drought, there is the unnerving similarities to the Grand Final series two years ago and then there is the natural emotion coming out of Thursday night’s Game 2 and the rhetoric since.

Moving on quickly the focus

Putting all that to one side and behind them, and out of their minds, is the focus the Lynx have heading into Sunday’s Game 3.

“We have to move on, you have to. As well as we played in Game 1, we just had to wipe that from the slate to start again, and it’s the same thing now going into Game 3 where the scores are starting nil-nil,” Petrik said.

“We’ve got to find a way to flush it from the system pretty quickly, if we go to Melbourne with our tail between our legs, it will be bad. If we go to Melbourne free and loose, then hopefully we can put up a display like we did last weekend.”

Focus on getting back to what they do best

Looking back on Thursday night’s Game 2 at a sold out Bendat Basketball Centre, the Lynx were playing catch up all evening and did fall 15 points behind during the third quarter, but they never stopped fighting.

They were able to pick up the momentum in the fourth quarter as well and drew level with a minute to play before in the end in a wild finish, it was a Russell turnaround jumper for the Flyers that sealed the win for her team to force the game to Sunday’s deciding Game 3.

Petrik is the first to acknowledge that a lot of the reason the Flyers were on top a lot of Game 2 was because they simply played well and were able to get their games on their terms which was being played at a slower pace and much more of a physical battle.

However, he also saw plenty that the Lynx did wrong and didn’t follow the scout or game plan especially in the first half which will be the focus to tidy up now if they want to win the championship on Sunday.

“Southside were really good and got their stuff right, and even when we got our stuff right they were able to make timely shots,” Petrik said.

“But I thought we got a lot of our Xs and Os wrong and for no real reason. We went rogue multiple teams and they were all scout breakdowns, and all the things we did so well in Game 1.

“I know everyone watched the three-point shooting of Game 1 and that was great, but it was more the defensive end and how well we got the rotations. This game we did a really horrible job at that and in fairness Southside were really good.”

Remarkably similar story won’t be an issue

It’s impossible to ignore just how similar this Grand Final series has so far played out to the three-game contest the Lynx had with the Melbourne Boomers back in 2022.

What makes sport incredible is that no script writer could come up the similarities from two years ago to this season involving the Lynx.

Two years ago and the Lynx were brilliant in Game 1 against the Boomers in Melbourne, winning by 27 points. Last Sunday in Game 1 against the Flyers, Perth won by 22 points on the back of hitting 22 three-pointers with Amy Atwell nailing nine of them.

Then two years ago in the Game 2 at Bendat Basketball Centre, it was quite the eventful game and in the end with the Lynx trailing the Boomers by three and time expiring, Marina Mabrey was fouled attempting the three.

She hit the first two at the line, but couldn’t quite manage the third and the Boomers won by a point before going on to secure the championship by winning the Game 3 at home.

Then this time, on Thursday night and the Lynx were ever so closer to pulling off would have been a stunning comeback victory at home.

But what is in their favour is that there is no script written, so the Lynx can create their own new story in Melbourne on Sunday for Game 3 and Petrik doesn’t expect history to impact any of his players.

“It is a completely different roster so the battle scars are more on the coaching staff than the players,” Petrik said.

“Most of the players would never have seen it and I do understand it’s a question everyone’s going to ask, but I don’t know the players care too much. I think they will care more about responding to what happened in this game.”

No concern over big name Lynx stars

What Aari McDonald has done in her first WNBL season before and after a knee injury that sidelined her for eight games has been nothing short of remarkable.

While missing those eight games denied her the chance to be an MVP contender, she could very well be the best player in the league and she again showed that on Thursday with 26 points and eight assists despite the bruising defence and physical attention she received.

Petrik isn’t concerned about how she’ll find a way to be good to go for Sunday and be ready for more of that physical attention.

“Aari will be fine and she did get some treatment, but I think everyone did in that game,” he said.

“She got a few knocks to the head, but they looked like they were accidents so there are no issues and she’ll be fine.”

Lynx captain Anneli Maley is a former WNBL MVP and is having a fascinating battle largely with the legendary Lauren Jackson in this series.

She had another 17 rebounds on Thursday and while the last minute of the game didn’t go as she hoped, Petrik isn’t concerned about how she’ll bounce back with the support of the rest of the team.

“She’ll be fine. We’ll get around her and look after her, and everything else,” Petrik said.

“We need her and she’s our captain, so we get around her and look after her. The one real positive with our team is that it’s such a tight-knit group so it won’t fracture or stray, the culture is really, really strong inside and she’ll be fine.”

Players stepping up

While McDonald, Atwell, Maley and even Canadian centre Emily Potter have been imposing forces throughout this WNBL season for the Lynx, the depth of the group has become one of the great strengths.

That was again the case on Thursday night in Game 2 and when others were struggling, it was experienced guard Alex Ciabattoni who helped keep them in touch.

Miela Goodchild’s effort and intensity proved crucial too and Steph Gorman provided some crucial minutes which was important given the physical attention that Atwell and McDonald in particular received from the Flyers.

“I thought Steph in the third was important and Miela’s intensity in the second half as well, there was a few players who stepped up, but it was in that first half where were asleep and tight,” Petrik said.

“When you’re constantly picking the ball out of the hoop, you also can’t get your running game going anywhere near as easily and they were in high 40s with three or four minutes to go in the second quarter. That just can’t happen so we have a lot of things to fix from the first half.”

No concern over being ready for Sunday

Having played such a physical, bruising and emotional encounter in front of a sold out home crowd on Thursday, there will be challenges to turn the focus on Sunday but that’s not something that Petrik has any concern over.

“That’s been our bread and butter all year in terms of believing in our strength and conditioning coach, and we believe we have the best one in the country,” Petrik said.

“We’ve trained this style all year long so it’s the same thing we said in Game 1 where as much as it’s hurting us to play that way, we’re sure it’s hurting Southside more.

“We’re a younger squad as well and by Sunday, it’s their fourth game in however many days, and it’s only our third in less so there’s some positives coming into that game on Sunday even though we wished we didn’t have to go back there.”