STORY OF THE WEEK
Rebounds win rings.
It's etched in playoff stone.
And throughout the second and third quarters of the National Basketball League finals Game 4 at Melbourne Arena, Melbourne United conceded offensive rebound after offensive rebound to a rampant Perth Wildcats outfit that crashed the boards relentlessly, if not maniacally.
The final result was a lopsided 47-37 rebound count, with Perth claiming 17 offensive boards in one of the great smash-and-grab championship bursts.
At the other end of the court, Melbourne United's offense too often had a whiff of "one pass, shot", the hosts resorting far too often to high-risk, low-reward contested shots that, unlike the Wildcats, resulted in a possession switch.
Add to that numerous United turnovers and the recipe for a Perth Wildcats championship was created, a deserved ninth title for Australia's premier basketball franchise.
It was a title borne from what Wildcats champion Damian Martin called "a roller-coaster season".
Bolting from the gate early in the year, Perth ground to a shuddering halt in the middle of the NBL season as injuries and a form slump took a terrible toll.
Indeed, there was more than a hint of alarm that Perth's 32-season playoff streak - a run unmatched in Australian professional sport - was in serious jeopardy.
Fortunately for the Wildcats and their rabid Red Army of fans, they steadied the ship to not only finish on top of the home-and-away ladder but claim the 2018-19 crown with a lethal mix of explosive offense and grit-and-grind defensive intensity.
Led by high-octane imports Bryce Cotton and Terrico White - who was a deserved winner of the Larry Sengstock Medal as the Finals MVP - the Wildcats continued their tradition of identifying the best quality overseas talent and building a formidable Australian core around those players.
It's a winning culture that also enabled Perth to send off club stalwart Greg Hire in fitting fashion with a fourth and final title.
For Melbourne United, the lingering question of their unsuccessful championship defence will be - where to now?
After finally breaking through for the franchise's first NBL title last year, making the championship series was the bare minimum for a team that now prides itself on entrenched success.
Bringing back star guard Casper Ware should be a priority, as well as adding another star big to complement (or even replace) Josh Boone.
The salt in the championship wound for United is that Perth's do-everything All-NBL forward Nick Kay was an off-season target for Melbourne.
But Kay ultimately signed with Perth and it's no coincidence the former Illawarra star was one of the difference makers for the Wildcats all season.
In an off-season that begins now, United will contemplate what went so wrong.
The Wildcats will deservedly celebrate what went oh so right.
PLAYER OF THE FINALS
Bryce Cotton (PER) - The difference maker in the NBL Finals. Didn't just quarterback the Wildcats to victory, he damn well carried them at times. Teammate Terrico White was a deserved winner of the Larry Sengstock Trophy as the Most Valuable Player of the finals but make no mistake, where Perth goes, Cotton leads the way.
TEAM OF THE SEASON
G: Bryce Cotton (PER) - See above.
G: Casper Ware (MEL) - Was well-held by Damian Martin in the deciding game of the Finals but United don't even sniff the post-season, let alone the championship decider, without him. United needs to bring him back.
F: Lamar Patterson (BNE) - Started the season for all the wrong reasons after illegally bringing his dog to Australia with him. By the end of the year, opposition teams were wishing he'd been sent home with the dog, such was his impact on the Bullets.
F: Nick Kay (PER) - His versatility was second only to Cotton in terms of importance for the Wildcats. Crossed the Nullarbor and was a seamless fit from the get-go. Scores from everywhere and is a constant threat on the boards, especially at the offensive end.
C: Andrew Bogut (SYD) - The league MVP and runaway Defensive Player of the Year, Bogut's return to Australian basketball was a resounding success. Anchored the Kings at both ends of the court, with elite defensive awareness and ability to facilitate teammates on offense.
WHAT TO LOOK FORWARD TO
The NBL off-season already smacks of intrigue. Will the Wildcats bring their winning combination of imports back for another go-around? Can Melbourne United respond to being comprehensively outplayed in three of the four title games? How can Sydney and Brisbane take another step? And how will every team respond to the newest NBL franchise, the South East Melbourne Phoenix, coming into the league for 2019-20? Stay tuned.