Perth Wildcats’ championship fate will be decided at Perth Arena on Sunday after the title favourites suffered a narrow 89-84 defeat to rivals Adelaide on the road tonight.
The Sixers leveled the best-of-three series at 1-1 in front of a raucous crowd of more than 8000 fans at Adelaide Arena, forcing a deciding game.
The Wildcats had no answer to Adelaide import Gary Ervin in the first half as the home side built a double-digit lead, but clawed their way back and hit the front midway through the final period.
The lead changed hands several times in a frantic final few minutes.
The Wildcats had the chance to tie the game in the dying stages, but controversially lost possession when the ball went out of bounds and the referees couldn't work out which player it came off.
Possession was given to Adelaide and Ervin effectively put the game beyond the Wildcats' reach from the free throw line.
The American guard led all scorers with 23 points, while Daniel Johnson and Adam Gibson were big contributors with 18 points each for Adelaide.
Beal had just two points at half-time but led the charge in the second half, finishing with 19 as he threatened to pinch the game for the Wildcats, while Matt Knight and James Ennis scored 14 points each.
Adelaide started the game on a 7-0 run and controlled most of the first period, with Ervin and Johnson in aggressive moods and doing most of the damage on the scoreboard.
The Wildcats stayed in touch and trailed by just three points at quarter-time on the back of some solid shooting from the three-point and free throw lines.
But they conceded 29 points for the term, the most they had given up in an opening period since round two against Melbourne (31).
The intensity lifted in the second quarter and tensions bubbled when the Wildcats objected to a foul called against Tom Jervis, his third for the night.
Jervis had to be benched soon after when he copped a fourth foul, leaving the Wildcats down a key big man for a large chunk of the night.
The visitors' frustrations boiled over when Ennis was called for a controversial charging foul and the American star broke a chair as he vented during the ensuing time-out.
The margin reached doubled figures before half-time as Ervin continued to put on a clinic, finishing with 17 points for the half.
In contrast, the Wildcats' shooting let them down in the first half, with just 29 per cent of their field goals finding the target.
Perth veteran Shawn Redhage fouled out early in the final term, but the Wildcats rallied to score 15 of the first 20 points for the period and hit the front when Beal nailed a three with five minutes left.
But Adelaide emerged victorious in a thrilling finish.
The Wildcats will have history on their side for game three.
The last 15 best-of-three grand final series have been won by the team that took a 1-0 lead.
Now-defunct South East Melbourne Magic were the last team to win a best-of-three series after losing game one, coming from behind to beat city rivals Melbourne Tigers in 1996.
The Wildcats also boast a 14-2 record at home this season, including three wins over Adelaide by an average of 11 points.
Tickets to tomorrow’s game, which begins at 11am, went on sale to the general public last night.
The Dr John Rashcke Tophy will be presented to the winning team by NBL Hall of Fame members Ray Borner and Cal Bruton.