A last second game-winner fell short as Adelaide’s home run ended with defeat at the hands of the Breakers, while the Taipans are targeting the Breakers top-two spot.
Catch up with all the round 14 NBL23 action.
Taipans target top two after Phoenix victory
– Matthew McInerney
CAIRNS overcame a clumsy start to stunt South East Melbourne’s drive for a post-season berth as the Taipans’ import trio led a 94-85 win at a pumping Snakepit.
Tahjere McCall, DJ Hogg and Shannon Scott combined for 57 points as the Taipans came from behind to knock over the Phoenix and claim their fourth consecutive win.
McCall led Cairns with 24 points, four rebounds and four assists, Scott went 19pts, seven assists, six rebounds and a steal, while Hogg had 16pts, seven assists and three rebounds.
And the Snakes smell a shot at the top two, with Cairns just 1.5 wins behind the league-leading defending champion Kings.
Taipans coach Adam Forde was particularly proud of his squad, who won all four of their games in the past eight days without injured star Keanu Pinder.
“That’s four games in eight days, and to do it without Keanu, having everybody step up on different occasions and moments in this whole stretch was really important,” Forde said.
“It wasn’t without its challenges.
“This was probably our best shooting night in a while, and we do so on the back of this eight-day road trip. We’re looking forward to a day off.”
The Phoenix started hot, leading by 11 at the first break, but the Taipans burned brighter as they fought back from a double-digit deficit for the ninth time this season to punish the visitors.
A 17-5 run through the first quarter didn’t help the home side, who shot at 47 per cent from the field against a hot Phoenix (68 per cent) who almost couldn’t put a foot wrong.
The Phoenix outworked Cairns on the boards, winning the rebound count 10-3 as the Taipans failed to grab an offensive rebound in the opening 10 minutes.
Cairns clawed their way back to the lead five minutes through the second quarter as passes – and shots – finally hit their mark and they got it right on the defensive end, going into the break up 57-49.
From there, the confident Cairns side kept the momentum going as they earned win No.14 – which should just about lock in at least a spot in the Play-in Tournament.
SEM coach Simon Mitchell said he was looking forward to finally getting his team back on the practice court.
“It’s been a difficult couple of weeks for this team,” Mitchell said.
“Losing Mitch tonight, again … it was really good to see those guys in his absence step up and make a contest of it and give ourselves the best opportunity to win.
“We have ourselves a week now, we can actually start training a little bit when we get home.”
CREEK IS CLASSY
Mitch Creek’s name has been dropped more frequently in the MVP conversation recently, and as Cairns’ candidate Keanu Pinder cooled his heels on the sideline the veteran Phoenix guard went to work.
He reached double figures – and came up with a big block – after just six minutes of court time, making plays and firing at five-from-seven as the Phoenix shot to a 13-point lead in the first term.
Creek had 14 points by quarter time, but the Taipans’ defence locked him down as the Phoenix’s offense stalled through the middle period.
The 30-year-old finished with a team-high 25 points (50 per cent from the field), seven rebounds, three assists and a block, but failed to finish the game after receiving an eye injury.
His case will be impossible to overlook if he can lead the Phoenix to the post-season.
Cairns have made a mockery of pre-season predictions by sealing win No.14 and all but locking in a spot in the NBL’s top six.
But the club, led by second-year coach Adam Forde, is intent on finishing in the top two to guarantee a semi final spot.
The Taipans are just 1.5 wins behind the Kings with seven games left to play, but face a tough run home where all but one opponent is locked in the same race.
The Phoenix, meanwhile, have to win most of their remaining games to lock in their spot.
They’re 12-11 and still in the top six, but need to find the spark to finish strong.
Phoenix boast a 3-7 record when playing interstate, and with a plane trip required for two of their remaining five games, will need their fortunes to improve to make it.
PLAY IT SAFE
Taipans star Keanu Pinder stayed cool on the sideline for the fourth straight game as the club remains patient in bringing back the powerhouse forward.
Pinder injured his left ankle against Melbourne United on December 23 and has missed the four games since.
But he wasn’t too concerned as he watched his team go 4-0 without him.
“Honestly, it’s not as hard as I thought it would be, the guys are killing it right now,” said Pinder on the broadcast.
“They’re doing a great job, they’re playing confidently.”
He is slated to return on Friday when Cairns hosts the Hawks. SEM Phoenix return to action on January 16 when they host the Bullets.
NZ heart-Breakers in Adelaide
Adelaide’s stellar run of home wins ended with a heartbreaking two-point loss to New Zealand on Sunday after Ian Clark‘s attempted three-point matchwinner bounced off the rim.
The Sixers, who were shooting for a sixth win on the trot at the Entertainment Centre, played in front of a record sellout crowd for the third game in succession, but the 9,368 fans in attendance left disappointed after the combative Breakers ground out an 85-83 win.
The clash with the second-ranked Breakers was a good measuring stick for CJ Bruton’s fourth-placed side, the visitors improving to a 13-6 record while Adelaide still has work to do with an 11-10 record.
The 36ers were behind at every break and trailed by nine points with just under two minutes remaining before mounting a furious late rally.
“I thought we controlled the second half completely,” New Zealand coach Mody Maor said.
“We turned the ball over late and gave Adelaide life to come back into it.”
Bobby Brown Jr led the visitors with 16 points, with Jarrell Brantley next best with 15.
Robert Franks had a game-high 20 points and 13 rebounds, Antonius Cleveland got into early foul trouble but finished with 18, while Kai Sotto played one of his best games with 16 points including a superb behind-the-head dunk off an alley-oop pass.
Adelaide was its own worst enemy at times, committing 23 turnovers to New Zealand’s 15.
“It was ours to take and we shot ourselves in the foot,” Bruton said.
“Valuing the ball is a big key and it really came down to the turnovers and how they came about.”
Brown, the third-ranked scorer in the league, had the hot hand early with 10 of his side’s first 14 points.
Desperate for any way possible to slow his scoring, it was helpfully pointed out to the referees by the Sixers’ bench that Brown had some blood visible on his arm.
The star import was required to leave the court for treatment, but quickly returned to torment the home side.
Brown’s output was important early with his side struggling from long range.
The Breakers are one of the better teams in the league from three-point range, but they missed their first six shots from outside the arc before Brown drained his first attempt.
They soon found their range with six triples to the Sixers’ two at halftime helping them to a seven-point lead at the main break.
Three-point shooting continued to be a key factor in the contest, the Breakers finishing with 11-of-29 shooting with the Sixers just 4-of-22 from long range.
The Sixers had appeared frustrated by the physical nature of the Breakers’ defence and the heated contest threatened to boil over in the third quarter.
Clark was given a technical foul for voicing his displeasure at a foul called on him, Cleveland sat on the bench for most of the term after picking up his fourth foul and there was plenty of back and forth between the players.
Franks took matters into his own hands, working powerfully to the basket against Dererk Pardon then celebrating his lay-up with a big flex of the muscles.
Pardon went to the bench early in the last quarter after his foul that sent Anthony Drmic sprawling was upgraded to an unsportsmanlike after a coach’s challenge.
The burly American was a key contributor with 10 points to go with his strong work on defence.
The 36ers are back in action on Thursday night when they take on the JackJumpers in Hobart, while the Breakers head west to battle the Wildcats in Perth.
Kings put Wildcats to the sword
– Matt Cleary
Open the top deck, Sydney.
For the fourth match in a row Sydney Kings have dominated their NBL opponents prompting calls for the curtains that ring The King Dome‘s upper level to be parted in full.
Things are building for Sydney Kings.
And when a title contender turns up they could just about fill the joint.
On Saturday night in front of a vocal crowd of 11,073, the Kings extended their lead at the top of the NBL table with a dominant 108-87 victory over seventh-placed Perth Wildcats.
Sydney was best served, yet again, by Xavier Cooks (24 points, 11 rebounds, 4 assists) whose athleticism and skill the Wildcats had few answers to.
When Cooks wasn‘t leaping and landing them, Tim Soares was bombing dunks, dishing assists or rejecting whatever the Wildcats dared take his way.
Kouat Noi (12 points, 6 rebounds) was dominant on the paint while Angus Glover (13 points) made some crowd-pleasing – and Angus Glover-pleasing – plays.
Best for Perth was the skilful Corey Webster (22 points, 3 assists), the speedy Bryce Cotton (22 points, 5 assists) and Brady Manek (10 points, 7 rebounds).
In the first quarter a Glover pass rebounded off a referee‘s back before Jayden Galloway scored for Sydney while being fouled. It took Sydney out by 11 points.
When Cooks landed a booming three and Kouat Noi hit his own from outside the arc, the margin was 14 and Perth called a time-out to stem the tide. They could as easily have halted the Swan River.
In the last quarter they got within nine points with an alley-oop and an intercept. But that was good as it got for the Cats of the west.
DJ, SOARES, CROWD ROARS
DJ Vasiljevic hit three 3-pointers and was typically industrious but it was a beautifully-weighted alley-oop pass for a Jordy Hunter dunk that thrilled the bumper crowd.
Soares ripped off a mighty dunk while being fouled in the second quarter. Moments later he rejected a Wildcats‘ attack and pumped his fist like Tiger Woods holing a clutch putt.
A huge roar came when Hunter landed a floating two-pointer while off-balance and falling away, the Wildcats‘ defence hustling hard.
Yet the biggest cheer of the night came when Cooks landed a spectacular dunk with 1:30 to play.
COOKS WITH GAS
In the first quarter Cooks rejected a Tashawn Thomas dunk attempt, made a clutch rebound and scored in the same movement. By the first break he had 10 points and two rebounds. By halftime it was 18 points with 7/7 from the field. By full-time he collected the MVP trophy.
The NBA must be watching.
The Kings are on a roll. On Christmas Day they beat Melbourne United 101-80 before dominating the JackJumpers by 20 points and South East Melbourne Phoenix by 16 points.
Last season they went 13 wins in a row and took out the championship.
This season has eight matches of the season proper to play, including two more against the Wildcats, two others against last-placed Illawarra Hawks and second-last Brisbane Bullets.
Momentum is building for the reigning champions.
United withstand JackJumpers comeback for important win
– Jarrod Lawler
The JackJumpers recent dominance over Melbourne United ended in Hobart on Saturday night after United held off another typically trademark Tassie comeback to register a gutsy 92-85 win.
After matchwinner Chris Goulding (23 points, 5/11 from deep) backed up a huge 11-point third term with a monster triple to start the fourth, the visitors led 76-63 and appeared all but home until Milton Doyle (20 points) had other ideas and almost helped pull off another miraculous Jackies comeback.
With their backs to the ropes the smooth-moving American guard scored 13 final quarter points as he knocked down countless clutch shots as he and the JackJumpers refused to die.
Doyle went 4/4 from deep in a sizzling final term and after he hit his fourth triple late in the match the 29-year-old had helped cut the deficit from 13 points to just four with 1:01 remaining.
However it wasn’t to be another fairytale comeback win for the JackJumpers as United was able to hit timely baskets and free throws in the dying stages as the JackJumpers went cold to go down by seven points.
It was a crucial victory for United (11-12) who along with the JackJumpers are in a logjam in the middle of the NBL table as numerous sides fight for a playoff spot as the season winds down.
Meanwhile for the JackJumpers it was a tough loss for the plucky side who at 11-10 can now finish the round as low as seventh pending other results.
The win also ended Tassie’s dominance over their Bass Strait rivals with the victory ending a run of four straight losses to the JackJumpers.
In the only downside for United they were hit with a pair of injuries with Isaac Humphries (knee) and David Barlow (concussion following a knock with Doyle) both ruled out of the contest in the first term.
While Goulding was crucial for United, teammate Marcus Lee was just as pivotal in the result as the high-flying American dominated the paint to finish with a huge 23-point, 10-rebound double-double in the win.
For the JackJumpers, Jack McVeigh returned to form with a stellar 18 point game in support of his clutch teammate Doyle.
Tasmania will look to stay in the playoff hunt with a win against the struggling Hawks in Illawarra on Tuesday while United will head across the ditch to face the Breakers at Christchurch Arena on Thursday.
Persistence pays off for 36ers in Adelaide
With the memories of their last-start late meltdown still fresh in their minds, the Adelaide 36ers dug deep on Friday night to come from behind to score a gritty eight-point win over the gallant Illawarra Hawks.
In their first game since coughing up an 18-point fourth-quarter lead against the Taipans in Cairns, the 36ers were down by eight points with four minutes left at the Adelaide Entertainment Centre.
But Antonius Cleveland was huge defensively down the stretch and hit one of his side’s four three-pointers in the frantic final minutes to secure a 103-95 win in front of a record sellout crowd of 9,318 fans.
The upstart Hawks led by six points with five minutes left as the Sixers continued to struggle to put it together on offence.
When Sam Froling slammed down a Tyler Harvey shot with four minutes left the margin was eight points and CJ Bruton called a time-out.
The Sixers had managed just six points in the first six minutes of the last quarter, but exploded with a 22-6 run to improve to an 11-9 record, while the brave Hawks slipped to 2-18.
Cleveland had just two points at halftime but finished with 16, with Daniel Johnson leading the way with a team-high 18.
Harvey was outstanding for the visitors with a game-high 22 points, Deng Deng next best with 19.
The 36ers averaged a league-worst 7.9 three-pointers per game heading into the clash, but they drained five triples from six attempts in a hot first quarter from long range.
Anthony Drmic (16 points) scored this side’s opening points with back-to-back triples, and Ian Clark lived up to his reputation with two more in his third game with his new club.
The Sixers couldn’t maintain that pace and the Hawks slowly warmed up from outside the arc, Tyler Harvey draining a triple from a metre inside the centre line as time expired in the first half to cut the home side’s lead to three points.
The Sixers finished with 13 three-pointers from 24 attempts, with their ability to get hot again from outside the arc late a key factor in the win.
The Hawks have been cruelled by injury, losing imports Justin Robinson, George King and Peyton Siva for the season, with Siva the latest loss after suffering a shoulder injury.
There was some light at the end of the tunnel with the return of Michael Frazier II from a hamstring injury, the American with a game-high 11 points in the first quarter.
But Illawarra’s import injury curse struck again.
Frazier suffered a suspected broken arm in a collision with Drmic late in the first quarter and didn’t take the court after quarter-time.
Since Kai Sotto replaced Daniel Johnson in the starting five, the Sixers have averaged just over 35 points from the bench and haven’t lost in that count in five games.
With NBA and NBL championship-winning guard Clark coming off the bench, the 36ers can lay claim to having one of the most stacked benches in the league.
Adelaide’s non-starters impressed again with 46 points to Illawarra’s 27 from the bench.
Taipans continue Queensland dominance over Brisbane
– Greg Davis
The Queensland Derby could change its name from the “Sunshine Stoush” to the “Orange Crush” after Cairns claimed their seventh-straight win over an insipid Brisbane in a spiteful 107-81 thrashing at Nissan Arena on Thursday night.
The Taipans got out to a dominant 20-point lead in the first half when Cairns guard Tahjere McCall got under the skin of the undisciplined home side who were also crippled by a dysfunctional offence and a lack of intensity in defence.
The Snakes moved to a 13-7 record without head coach Adam Forde who was sidelined through illness and star centre Keanu Pinder (ankle) while the ninth-placed Bullets slumped to 5-15 with arguably their poorest performance in a horror campaign – given it was at home.
Taipans forwards DJ Hogg (23 points) and Sam Waardenburg (24 points) led the way for the rampant visitors who had five players in double figures as they relentlessly blew Brisbane off the court for a clean sweep of the “Sunshine Stoush” in 2022-23.
Bullets star Nathan Sobey went scoreless in the first half when Brisbane hit just three three-pointers from 15 attempts, committed 10 turnovers and got comprehensively out-rebounded.
It only got worse for Brisbane as Cairns extended their advantage to 32 points late in the third term as Sobey finished with just two points while Tyler Johnson played a lone hand for the Bullets with 32 points. Kody Stattmann was next best with 10 points after only entering the game in the final term.
An 11-0 run in the second quarter helped the Taipans jump out to a 20-point buffer just before halftime when they ultimately held a 55-37 cushion at the main break after leading by six at quarter-time. They were up by 26 at the last change.
– Like a good old-fashioned derby, tempers flared in the first term after Bullets forward DJ Mitchell and Cairns guard Tahjere McCall engaged in a bit of push and shove. It quickly escalated with a number of players from both sides charging in to get involved with Taipan Mirko Djeric copping a blow from Mitchell who was charged with an unsportsmanlike foul. Bullets forward Tanner Krebs got upset with McCall in the second term when there was another spot fire and Krebs was pinged with a technical foul for taunting. McCall then tangled with Aron Baynes in an eventful first half.
– The Taipans were without head coach Adam Forde due to illness and was replaced in the hot seat by senior assistant coach Kerry Williams. Williams is no rookie having been a part of the Australian Boomers coaching staff for the recent FIBA World Cup qualifiers. He also guided the Cairns Marlins – the team he also represented as a player – to the semi-finals of the NBL1 North competition last season.
– Bullets big man Aron Baynes returned from a persistent back injury and was injected straight into the Brisbane starting five with breakout centre Gorjok Gak relegated to the bench despite his recent red-hot form. Baynes was an offensive focus early with Cairns missing their star Keanu Pinder. But they quickly reverted to jacking long-range shots. Madness.
– Brisbane had lost the fourth quarter in their last 10 games before the Queensland derby. It didn’t matter what they did in the last term as the game was over by halftime. The only fight the Bullets showed was when they wanted to hit Tahjere McCall. They looked off from the opening tip-off and did not improve. The season cannot finish soon enough for the club that has been a mismanaged mess on and off the court in 2022-23.
Originally published as NBL23: Cairns overcome slow start to see off Phoenix challenge