The freakish talents of James Ennis and dogged defence of his teammates were on display as the Perth Wildcats held off three-times reigning champions New Zealand to win 71-62 in Auckland on Friday.
Ennis threw down a slam that captain Damian Martin declared “dunk of the year” as the Wildcats built a big early lead, but it was at the other end of the court where the game was won.
Despite being held to their lowest score of the season, the Wildcats were able to grind out another impressive road triumph.
It was their second win in Auckland this season and first in five trips to Vector Arena since New Zealand entered the competition in 2003.
Martin has been named the league’s best defensive player for the past three seasons and said the Wildcats’ defence had stepped up to a new level.
“Even though we weren’t scoring the ball in the second half, what I’m proud of is we made sure we were getting stops at the other end,” Martin said.
“We held onto our lead and once we started playing good offense again, we build that lead back up.”
The Wildcats set the tone early by holding the Breakers to just two points in the opening eight minutes and led by 10 points at quarter-time on the back a dominant defensive display.
The Breakers were forced into taking most of their shots under pressure and managed just 20 per cent from the field in the first quarter.
Ennis emphasised the Wildcats’ dominance in the second quarter when he blew past marker Tom Abercrombie and executed a one-handed slam-dunk over the top of Gary Wilkinson.
“I know everybody was talking about the dunk off the backboard last week, but that was in open court,” Martin said.
“This dunk was over two athletic players playing defence on him, so as far as I’m concerned it was dunk of the year.”
The big home crowd was silenced when Ennis nailed a ridiculous three-pointer on the half-time buzzer, shooting under pressure from Mika Vukona to extend the lead to 16 points from well behind the arc.
The Wildcats were held scoreless for the first five minutes of the third quarter as the Breakers fought their way back into the contest.
But the visitors steadied down the stretch to secure the win.
Ennis (16 points), Matt Knight (15) and Shawn Redhage (12) led the scoring, while Martin was at his energetic best.
Vukona (16 points) and Abercombie (15) were New Zealand’s best.
The Wildcats will now enjoy an 18-day break between games, with their next assignment being a New Year's Eve fixture away to Cairns.
American duo Ennis and Drake U'u will return home for a week to see their families over Christmas with the blessing of coach Trevor Gleeson, who wants his squad fit and firing for the run towards the play-offs.