National Basketball League officials will have their hands full reviewing footage of an ugly brawl between traditional rivals Perth and Adelaide at the end of last night’s game at Perth Arena.
The Wildcats (17-6) scored a comfortable 85-61 victory in the round 17 encounter to pull well clear of the second-placed 36ers (13-8) at the top of the ladder.
But while Adelaide didn’t put up much of a fight during the game, scoring a club-record low score of just 24 points in the first half, they certainly fired up after the final buzzer.
The initial scuffle broke out when words were exchanged between Wildcats forward Greg Hire and 36ers guard Gary Ervin, who Perth coach Trevor Gleeson and import James Ennis later said had taken exception to Hire shooting a three-pointer in the dying seconds of the game.
Referees and team officials managed to break up the two groups of players after about 30 seconds.
But tempers flared again when Adelaide coach Joey Wright responded wildly to what he described as a push in the chest from Wildcats assistant coach Adam Tatalovich.
Television footage showed Wright push Wildcats development player Louis Timms out of the way in an attempt to get to Tatalovich, but Wright was pulled back by his players before the situation could get any worse.
NBL officials have launched an investigation into the incident and are expected to hand out penalties to both sides.
Wright said he didn’t see what started the brawl, but was still fuming 30 minutes after the final buzzer at his post-game press conference.
He showed no remorse for his actions and wasn’t bothered by any potential sanctions from league headquarters.
“The NBL’s got to do whatever the NBL does. That’s on the NBL,” Wright said.
“But I’ll tell you right now, if any coach pushes me at the end of a game, it’s going to be exactly like that.”
Veteran NBL coach Wright’ said his only gripe was with Tatalovich, who joined the Wildcats’ coaching staff last season after working as an assistant coach and video analyst in the NBA.
“As I went to break it up, which I thought I did a pretty good job of, that idiot assistant coach pushed me in the chest,” Wright said.
“I’m going to tell you right now, you don’t put your hands on me.
“I had pretty good distance between my players and the Wildcats players. It was pretty much broken up and for him to step across and push me in the chest was extremely disrespectful.
“I’ve been coaching in this league for 11 years and I haven’t had a scuffle or had to deal with any of that kind of crap.”
Wildcats coach Gleeson said Hire’s decision to shoot the three-pointer in the dying seconds was a response to Ervin’s similar actions when the teams last met, in November.
Gleeson felt Ervin had shown disrespect to the Wildcats by shooting on the final possession in that round-seven clash and said Hire responded in the manner he was instructed to.
“They were five points up in Adelaide and Ervin’s got the ball with three seconds left and he’s racing down the court and shooting the ball on the last possession,” Gleeson said.
“I thought that was disrespectful. I thought that’s the way they’re going to go and I told our guys we were playing right until the end.
“Whether we’re 20 up or 20 down, we’re still playing the last possession. Greg was just doing what he was told.
“The cast was already dyed before that. Then they wanted to talk after the game, which I thought got out of hand.
“It shouldn’t have even got to that. They’re grown men and they should keep walking.”
Adelaide captain Adam Gibson said the brawl would ensure a fiery return contest in Adelaide on March 3.
The teams meet in the penultimate round of the regular season and are favourites to clash again in what would no doubt be a hotly contested grand final series in April.