The Perth Wildcats have returned to the NBL finals in thrilling style, defeating title favourites Sydney by just enough to sneak into the sixth and final spot.
The powerhouse club, which last year missed the playoffs for the first time in 35 seasons, went into the last game of the regular season knowing it needed to win by 11 points or more.
That was after Melbourne United downed the Adelaide 36ers 116-107 to put themselves in pole position.
Yet the Wildcats, at home against a Kings side with nothing on the line and missing star Derrick Walton Jr., got the job done 96-84 on Sunday evening.
While Perth led by just four points with three minutes left in the third quarter, they shot out to a 12-point advantage by the final change, and led by as much as 23 midway through the last stanza.
The Kings stormed back even with MVP fancy Xavier Cooks on the bench, and got within eight thanks to a Dejan Vasiljevic three with less than a minute left.
The Wildcats led by 12 in the final seconds after a Corey Webster two and two Brady Manek free throws. Sydney had the final possession but Vasiljevic missed two threes – one out of a last-ditch in-bounds – allowing the hosts to survive.
It means Perth will face the South East Melbourne Phoenix in a Play-in Qualifier, with the winner to face the loser of the Seeding Qualifier between the Cairns Taipans and Tasmania JackJumpers in the Play-In Game.
The Play-In Game winner will then face the Kings in one semi-final series, while the Taipans-JackJumpers winner will face the New Zealand Breakers in the other semi-final.
1. Sydney Kings (19-9, +211 points differential)
2. New Zealand Breakers (18-10, +177)
3. Cairns Taipans (18-10, +79)
4. Tasmania JackJumpers (16-12, +80)
5. S.E. Melbourne Phoenix (15-13, +41)
6. Perth Wildcats (14-13, +12)
7. Melbourne United (15-13, +10)
Eliminated earlier: Adelaide 36ers, Brisbane Bullets, Illawarra Hawks
NBL PLAYOFFS BRACKET
#6 Perth Wildcats at #5 S.E. Melbourne Phoenix
#4 Tasmania JackJumpers at #3 Cairns Taipans
Wildcats/Phoenix winner at JackJumpers/Taipans loser
Semi-Finals (three-game series)
#1 Sydney Kings vs Play-In Game winner
#2 New Zealand Breakers vs JackJumpers/Taipans winner
Finals (five-game series)
Kings/Play-In Game winner vs Breakers or JackJumpers/Taipans winner
Originally published as Wildcats pinch last finals spot by two points in last-day Kings upset