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Kenny steps up for Perth when it matters most
With just over two minutes left in Thursday night's top of the table clash between the Wildcats and the Kings, the game hung delicately in the balance. Perth held a four-point lead, but the momentum belonged to Sydney. Four triples from a red hot Brad Newley had triggered a 16-5 run, and it looked like the Kings were ready to run over the top of the reigning premiers and declare that there was a new sheriff in town.
The Wildcats desperately needed someone to step up and arrest the momentum. Casey Prather had been torching the Sydney for most of the night, but they had started aggressively trapping him in the second half to force the ball out of his hands. Indeed, when Matty Knight came to set the on-ball screen for Prather, Newley and Josh Powell pounced with the double team.
Knight slipped toward the rim, forcing the Kings to rotate as Prather hit him with the pass. Knowing there had to be a man open on the weak side, Knight turned and flipped the ball across court to the man Trevor Gleeson refers to as 'JK'. Jarrod Kenny, in his first game back from injury, showed no sign of tightness (groin or otherwise) as he calmly slotted the triple. The Jungle erupted, and the 'Cats ran away with the win.
In the nick of time
The shot was as timely as Kenny's return to Perth's lineup. It's fair to say the Wildcat point guards have been keeping the club's medical staff busy of late. Damian Martin is currently enjoying a long stint on the sidelines, and Kenny has obviously missed time. Corban Wroe did his best to hold down the fort during Perth's loss to New Zealand in Round 6, but picked up a concussion for his trouble. When he was ruled out of the clash with the Kings, Kenny's return went from important to downright essential.
Kenny has made a habit of stepping up in big moments for the Wildcats. Sometimes criticised in his debut season for passing up open shots, any tentativeness seems to disappear when the game is on the line. Thursday night's dagger was certainly not the first time the Red Army had seen JK deliver a clutch corner three, and it likely won't be the last.
More than just cover for Damo
Kenny's absence has been viewed through the lens of Perth's point guard injury pileup, having picked up his groin strain in the same game that Damian Martin fractured his jaw. It's understandable, but it does a disservice to JK's contribution. The Wildcats haven't just missed him because his injury has overlapped with Damian Martin missing time. They've missed JK because he makes them better.
As of right now, the Wildcats are plus-40 for the season with Kenny on the court and minus-15 without him (thanks to @crunchtimeshots). That's the best of any Wildcat. Better than Damo. Even better than Prather.
In the win against Sydney, Kenny was a game-best plus-15. He dished out five crucial assists, and can take much of the credit for keeping the dangerous Jason Cadee scoreless. At the start of the fourth quarter, Kenny led a Wildcats bench unit on a 7-0 run that proved pivotal, allowing coach Trevor Gleeson to pinch some extra rest for his starters.
Post-game, when Prather was asked where the leadership came from in response to Newley's onslaught, Kenny was the first name mentioned.
"Jarrod Kenny was big for us, having a point guard voice," Prather said.
Damian Martin is not expected to return for another two months (although he might return sooner, because when it comes to recovering from injury, Damian Martin plays by his own rules and nobody else's). The countdown to his return is understandable; as Andrew Gaze conceded post-game, not having "possibly the best defender ever, in the league" is a setback. But in the meanwhile, pay attention to Jarrod Kenny. He'll be stepping up, as usual, when it matters most.