With the playoffs just around the corner the Phoenix answered the playoff challenge of their cross-town rival on Saturday by disposing of Perth on Sunday, while an upset from the Breakers proves the Kings are beatable.
Catch up with all the round 16 NBL23 action.
Kings stumble in front of packed house
Not even the biggest NBL crowd of the season could get the Kings over the line as their vice-like grip on the minor premiership starts to loosen after the defending champions slumped to back-to-back losses for the first time this season.
Two days after they were chased down in a high-scoring epic out west, the Kings came out flat shooting just 34 per cent in the first half to have their lead at the top cut to just one game with three matches remaining.
They stormed back from a 14-point deficit in the second half to take the lead in an epic final quarter that saw the lead flip-flop several times before big man Jarrell Brantley drained a three-pointer with 15 seconds left to break the 86-all deadlock.
“It definitely was one of those possessions that you look back on and you’re excited for,” Brantley said.
“But the only thing on my mind is winning. I missed a lot in the third, but I wanted to keep going.”
The 93-88 win snaps a four-game losing streak for the Breakers who had managed just two wins from their previous nine matches.
Brantley was enormous in the win, dropping 30 points, nine rebounds and five assists to keep his side in third place.
He wasn’t alone in stuffing the stat sheet with Will McDowell-White simply outstanding for the visitors with 20 points, six rebounds and 10 assists, including six points in the fourth quarter when his team needed him the most.
“Great players and great people who do great things when their backs are against the wall,” Breakers coach Mody Maor said of the pair.
“We’re going to need a lot more from both of them in every game moving forward. I’m blessed to have them in my corner and happy they had this opportunity to perform on this stage today.”
A season-high 14,232 fans packed into Qudos Bank Arena for Sunday’s shootout, and there were some extra special onlookers in the house with eight NBA scouts making the trip to Sydney to take a closer look at Rayan Rupert and Xavier Cooks.
One game doesn’t undo all the good work they’ve done this season, but neither player stole the show with the stars combining for two field goals and four personal fouls in the first half.
Cooks is the raging favourite to claim this season’s MVP award and is on the radar of several NBA clubs, and while he came up with a crucial late block, he fouled out with just 11 points after a frustrating day at the office.
Rupert is expected to be picked in the first round of the NBA draft, and although he was kept to just four points by the Kings, his coach was glowing in his praise for the teen sensation.
“This is the most in tune and focused 18-year-old on planet Earth,” Maor said.
“He cares about basketball, he cares about the Breakers and he cares about winning. All the rest is noise.
“Luckily, we as an organisation have been through this ‘next star’ process before… so we have some experience on how to do things and how to help and support.
“Rayan goes about his work in the most diligent and enthusiastic fashion that you can find.”
A lot was made of the Kings having to fly back to Sydney from Perth just 24 hours before Sunday’s game, but coach Chase Buford was having none of it.
He lamented their 25 missed shots from the paint instead and said that rest and recovery had nothing to do with their slow start.
“We ain’t talking about tired legs,” he said.
“We do a great job of resting our guys and getting them healthy. We don’t overplay our guys like some of the other teams. That’s not an excuse for us.
“We missed more lay-ups and shots in the paint than they took.”
Phoenix torch Wildcats to keep playoff hopes alive
South East Melbourne Phoenix import Alan Williams has bullied the Perth Wildcats into submission, leading his finals-chasing side to a crucial 112-91 win in the NBL at the State Basketball Centre on Sunday.
With the two Melbourne clubs playing a game of musical chairs for the sixth and final spot in the finals, when the music stopped on Heritage Round on Sunday, it was once again advantage Phoenix over cross-town rivals Melbourne United.
The Phoenix‘s victory came on the back of a lopsided rebound count, a plus-24 (49-25) on the day.
Williams was the major reason why – totally dominating on the glass.
Ryan Broekhoff‘s long range shooting set the tone for the Phoenix in Rueben Te Rangi’s 300th NBL game.
He fired in six three-pointers before half time.
In a major concern, Broekhoff finished the game with ice on his groin, suggesting there could be an injury issue for the sharpshooter.
The Phoenix have improved to 14-12, leapfrogging Melbourne United into sixth.
The Phoenix produced nearly the perfect first half.
The hosts were efficient with their scoring, draining 16-from-27 at 59%, lethal from long range with 8-from-18 from three-point land and totally dominant on the boards, with a plus-14 rebounding count at half time, including a massive 12 offensive rebounds.
For all of their dominance, the Phoenix‘s lead was just six at the break.
The Wildcats game had broken down in most areas, but their depth of scoring options ensured the scoreboard never got too far out of control, even though the Phoenix led by 14 at one point.
The two-man punch of superstar Bryce Cotton and Corey Webster kept the Wildcats in the game.
The Wildcats were ferocious to start the second half.
With Cotton leading the charge, the Phoenix‘s lead was cut to one in a mere three minutes and it was suddenly game on.
The Phoenix were able to steady, rekindling that stern defence they had shown in the first half to take an 83-76 lead into three quarter time, before stretching the margin further in the fourth.
It‘s not often that a player gets a standing ovation a minute before half time.
When Broekhoff checked out with his second foul, the Phoenix fans rose to their feet to salute the shooter.
Broekhoff produced a scintillating first half with 22 points as part of his 26 points.
“We‘re just moving the ball really well and I’m lucky enough to get on the end of it and get a few open shots, just doing my best [Lanard] Copeland impersonation in the first half,” Broekhoff said at half time.
Air Williams lifts off
Williams was a man among boys in the paint.
The Wildcats had no answer to the strength and energy of the 29 year old American.
Williams lifted his team and boosted the crowd as he flexed his muscles after making a basket.
He had a double double 27 points and 14 rebounds with six assists.
Gary Browne‘s leadership at the point was evident in a 14-point, eight-assist game.
Bryce Cotton is box office.
How lucky are the Wildcats fans to see this scintillating guard play every other game?
The Wildcats guard got hot early and kept his side in the contest with 25 points.
Corey Webster was also brilliant for the Wildcats with 21 points.
South East Melbourne Phoenix 112 (Williams 27 Broekhoff 26 Creek 20) d Perth Wildcats 91 (Cotton 25 C Webster 21)
Goulding leads his Melbourne United to five straight
– Jason Phelan
Melbourne’s charge to the NBL playoffs continued on Saturday night, United making it five wins on the trot with a Chris Goulding-inspired seven-point victory that all but dashed Adelaide’s slim finals hopes.
With both clubs just outside the top six it was a critical game, the 94-87 result at the Adelaide Entertainment Centre keeping United right in the hunt with a 14-12 record and consigning the 11-14 Sixers’ playoff chances to the realms of mathematical possibility.
The Sixers were down by just two points when Antonius Cleveland jammed down a Robert Franks three-point attempt with two minutes left, but as they have done so often in a 9-2 run over the past 11 games, Dean Vickerman’s men found a way to get the job done.
Goulding was the go-to guy, finishing with a game-high 28 points, including five triples, with Rayjon Tucker (25 points and 10 rebounds) and Xavier Rathan-Mayes (20) superb in support.
In a concerning development for United and Shea Ili, the point guard left the game with a suspected concussion early in the second half after a heavy foul by Cleveland and did not return.
The Sixers were brave in front of yet another record sell-out crowd, but 9,505 fans left disappointed.
With Cleveland often riding the bench after getting in early foul trouble and Ian Clark out with a leg injury, Franks got hot in the second half to finish with a team-high 24 points and 10 rebounds.
JEKYLL AND HYDE
CJ Bruton conceded his inconsistent team had “been Jekyll and Hyde all season” following the overtime loss to Brisbane and it was the case again in the first half against United.
Cleveland fired up the crowd early when he took flight to throw down a majestic right-handed dunk worthy of framing and hanging on a wall, but the early minutes belonged to Goulding.
The sharpshooter accounted for all 10 of his side’s points in a withering opening burst.
Cleveland, the NBL’s reigning best defensive player, went to the bench after picking up three personal fouls in the first five minutes of the game, the visitors bounding away to a 28-21 lead at the first break.
But a complete shift came over the contest in a second quarter where Adelaide put the brakes on, restricting Goulding to two points and United to 11, then riding a 13-2 run to a surprise 40-39 lead at halftime.
It was a high stakes game for both sides, with seventh-placed United attempting to break into the top six and the eighth-ranked 36ers trying to stay within striking distance of the playoff spots.
In a measure of the tightness of the finals race, United had the same number of wins as the third-placed Breakers heading into the encounter with the Sixers, albeit Vickerman’s outfit had played two more games.
The result keeps United right in the mix with two games remaining, the next a tough road clash against New Zealand on Saturday night with a return bout against the 36ers at John Cain Arena to close out the regular season.
The Sixers have three games to play, against top-two sides Cairns (away) and Sydney (home) then United (away).
Winning all those games and any one of the Breakers, JackJumpers, Wildcats or Phoenix falling in a deep hole could theoretically happen but so could winning the lottery.
No Harvey heroics, Baynes sets up Bullets win
– Greg Davis
BOOMERS great Aron Baynes set them up and silky import Tyler Johnson knocked them down for Brisbane who did not leave themselves open to any late Tyler Harvey heroics with a 103-86 win over Illawarra in Wollongong on Saturday.
Harvey hit a stunning, buzzer-beating, match-winning, long-range three-pointer to pip New Zealand on Thursday but the Bullets never let the Hawks get that close as they blew the home side off the court in the fourth term for their third-straight win.
American Harvey finished with 22 points as Brisbane turned the screws on him defensively in the second half when Johnson built on his reputation as a finisher of high class as he had a game-high 23 points.
Baynes was a tower of strength early with six points in the first four minutes and 15 points by halftime as the NBA championship-winning big man owned the paint and dominated his contest with Hawks centre Sam Froling.
The Boomers’ great had 16 points and 11 rebounds in the win over Adelaide on Thursday night and he set the tone early in Wollongong with two dunks.
The Bullets bounced out to a nine-point advantage twice in the third quarter despite their mounting foul tally and eventually went into the last break up 73-67. Brisbane led by four points at quarter-time and by two at halftime after the Hawks went on a 20-13 run to start the second quarter to get out to a four-point buffer.
Ramping up the defence on Harvey at the back-half of the second quarter swung the momentum back towards the visitors after they let him off the chain early.
Illawarra (3-22) still need two wins to avoid having the worst record in club history while the Bullets ensured they will not claim the wooden spoon as they moved to a 8-17 record.
HARVEY’S INFLUENCE STOPS
After his match-winning three-pointer from near halfway against the Breakers, Tyler Harvey somehow found himself open outside the arc. He hit three three-pointers as part of his 16-point haul at halftime.
Harvey was cutting the Bullets to shreds midway through the second term when Brisbane called a timeout to remind the players to pay attention to the star guard who had less influence on the contest. He hit just two buckets after halftime.
WHITE PRODUCES BEST
Bullets import Andrew White III had his best game in a Brisbane jersey with 18 points.
White had 13 points at halftime to be the equal leading scorer for the visitors as he was ruthlessly efficient from mid-range with his silky jump shot. Brisbane kept going to the forward and he kept knocking down his shots at a good clip.
His breakout game came at a good time with both Nathan Sobey and Jason Cadee having quiet scoring nights.
BULLETS BENCH USED EARLY
Playing their fifth game in 11 days, Brisbane went to their bench early and did not stop, using 10 of their 11 players in the first quarter. Only Rasmas Bach did not feature in the opening term for the visitors who pushed the ball up the floor and played at a quick tempo.
Bach got his shot at the end of the second term when the Hawks were on top of the sloppy Bullets.
The two foundation clubs swapped colours for the Heritage Round clash with the normally red-and-white Hawks switching to their original colour scheme of blue-and-gold to host the Bullets.
Brisbane were in their original red-and-white 1979 kit. The Bullets switched to blue-and-gold in 1984. The Hawks faithful at “The Snakepit” would have struggled getting their heads around cheering against the side in red-and-white.
Taipans’ winning streak snapped by JackJumpers
– Jake Garland
The Taipans welcomed back an MVP candidate but it was the visiting JackJumpers’ Jack McVeigh who snapped the Snakes’ six-game winning streak and strengthened Tasmania’s grip on a playoff position.
The JackJumpers hit the basket early, putting pressure on the Taipans who trailed 8-3 before they found their rhythm on a 12-0 run.
Former Taipan Jarrad Weeks answered for Tasmania with a three with two minutes left before Ben Ayre finished the quarter with the final score with the Taipans leading 17-14.
The JackJumpers started the second quarter with a 6-1 run in the first two minutes.
The Taipans struggled through the second quarter as things became heated on the floor between Tahjere McCall and Milton Doyle.
Cairns went into the half trailing 30-34 with Matt Kenyon a game high 11-points shooting at 80 per cent.
The Taipans shot at 34 per cent in the first half turning the ball over 13 times. DJ Hogg led the scoring with seven points.
Tasmania dominated the first five minutes of the third quarter, hitting 14 points, extending a lead to a game high 12 points.
Shannon Scott limped off in the hands of the doctor after a big fall midway through but returned to the court with less than a minute to go.
Jonah Antonio replaced Scott after the injury and hit two big three point shots back-to-back, closing the gap to seven points.
The JackJumpers continued to respond to what the Taipans threw at them, extending the score back to double figures with three minutes to go.
It was a seven-point margin at the end of the third with Kenyon with a game high 14 points.
Cairns started the fourth with an 8-0 run thanks to Bul Kuol and DJ Hogg finding their range.
After both teams struggled to score in the first half it turned into an old fashioned shootout with either team going back and forth.
Kuol lifted in the first half of the final quarter, finding the basket three times plus two free throws to draw the score back to level pegging with five minutes remaining.
Hogg hit a big outside shot to put the Taipans back in front before McVeigh responded with two big three-pointers of his own, swinging momentum back with Tasmania.
Sam Waardenburg went up for an offensive rebound and looks to have rolled his ankle with two minutes left.
With less than a minute to go, the JackJumpers pushed the lead out to six points with a three-pointer from Milton Doyle.
Tasmanian McVeigh finished with 18 points as the JackJumpers finished the game with an 11-0 run to win by eight points, 77-85.
Brisbane put a bullet in Adelaide’s finals hopes
– Greg Davies
BRISBANE all but put a bullet in Adelaide’s slim NBL finals hopes after a clutch performance from US import Tyler Johnson in a dramatic 106-101 overtime victory at Nissan Arena on Thursday night.
Adelaide suffered their fourth-straight loss and slumped to an 11-13 record after the ninth-placed Brisbane (7-17) powered over the top of the visitors in the extra five minutes.
The 36ers have to play Melbourne United twice, Sydney and Cairns in the run home in a diabolically tough fixture that will all but end their bid for the top six.
The silky Johnson was huge for Brisbane with 27 points and found great support from Jason Cadee, DJ Mitchell and Aron Baynes as the Bullets claimed their second-straight win.
The nailbiter went into overtime after the sides were locked at 91-all at the end of regular time after a frenetic final 30 seconds.
Johnson hit two clutch buckets for Brisbane, Adelaide’s Antonius Cleveland knocked down two free throws with 1.9 seconds left to tie the scores while teammate Robert Franks nailed a critical jumpshot after a controversial out-of-bounds call.
With 20.4 seconds left on the clock replays appeared to show the ball going over the baseline off 36ers forward Hyrum Harris. However, the replay centre still decided to hand possession to Adelaide.
Franks knocked down a shot off the next possession to level the scores at 89-all to add to the palpable tension inside Nissan Arena.
Without star point guard Mitch McCarron (family reasons), the 36ers trailed Brisbane for a vast majority of the contest with the Bullets leading by as much as 13 in the second quarter.
Anthony Drmic was the best for the 36ers with 20 points as Adelaide had five players get into double figures.
In his first game back at Nissan Arena since leaving the Bullets, 36ers import Robert Franks had a quiet first half with just the three points and two boards but he came to life after halftime with a seven-point surge in the third quarter to drag Adelaide back into the contest. He was forced to guard Aron Baynes in the last quarter but still had the legs to hit a vital jumpshot in the dying seconds.
Why were Brisbane’s original uniforms red and white? The Bullets adopted the same colour scheme as several Brisbane sporting teams back in the day as it was in keeping with the city’s official floral emblem – the poinsettia. They wore red and white from 1979 to 1984 before switching to blue and gold. A nice touch on the Heritage Round uniforms was that every player who has represented the club had their names printed on the jerseys and shorts. Brice Fitzgerald – the club’s first-ever captain – presented the jerseys to the current players pre-match.
Kai Sotto won’t forget his match-up with Aron Baynes. The Boomers great and NBA championship winner manhandled the giant 36er for most of the night, especially when they went toe-to-toe in the low post and Baynes’ size, strength and big man craft allowed him to get into good position and get to the bucket. To his credit, Sotto kept battling away in the paint to be one of Adelaide’s more significant contributors and he will be wiser – and bruised – for the overall experience.
Guard of honour
A host of past Bullets players, coaches and officials formed a guard of honour pre-match with the likes of Brian Kerle, Cal Bruton, Andre Moore, Rodger Smith and courtside entertainer “The Mushroom” all present. However, a number of club greats were conspicuous by their absence. Two players who have their retired numbers hanging from the rafters – Leroy Loggins and Robert Sibley – were not at Nissan Arena. The Bullets CEO Peter McLennan might be best placed to explain why.
Slow-starting JackJumpers miss golden opportunity
– Jonathon Tuxworth
THE JackJumpers squandered a chance to virtually put one foot through the NBL playoffs draw after a sloppy start cost them dearly in Wednesday night’s 86-75 loss to South-East Melbourne Phoenix at Launceston.
Tasmania (13-11) were hot favourites to secure a third straight win against a previously freefalling South East Melbourne, who had lost their past five matches, at a sold out Silverdome.
But a poor first quarter from the hosts and a big performance from Phoenix’s MVP contender Mitchell Creek, who did most of his damage early, proved too difficult to overcome.
JackJumpers coach Scott Roth labelled their last-start win over Adelaide as their best win of the season, but their performance against the Phoenix was arguably their worst.
Tasmania entered the clash in fourth spot on the table and a win would have seen them edge close to all but securing a second straight post-season campaign.
The Jackies shot 43 per cent from the field to 39. But after giving up 16 offensive rebounds, losing the assist count 19-11 and committing 14 turnovers to seven, they will enter the last four games of the regular season right in the playoff melting pot, with six teams battling for the last four spots.
The JackJumpers were lethargic out of the blocks, giving up an early 24-14 quarter time lead.
Hungry to arrest their slide the Phoenix (13-12) were aggressive from the outset, attacking the rim and forcing the JackJumpers into a number of early fouls.
Aside from the odd burst of JackJumpers momentum in the second half, the Phoenix controlled the contest to keep their playoff hopes alive.
JackJumpers import Milton Doyle (16 points, five assists) found some spark late and forward Jack McVeigh continued his good form with 15 bench points, but the Creek-led Phoenix packed too many punches.
Tasmania was made to pay for a poor first stanza where they lost the turnover count 5-0, gave away too many offensive rebounds and allowed the Phoenix to live on the free throw line.
A 7-0 Jackjumpers run midway through the second term cut the margin to 30-25.
However the Phoenix responded to build the lead out to 12, and extended it to 14 at the main break.
Creek (21 points, 11 rebounds, five assists) was superb for the visitors in the first half in particular, racking up 16 points and seven rebounds before halftime.
His focus on attacking the basket leading to eight free throw attempts after forcing five fouls on the Jackjumpers.
A 9-0 run late in the third quarter got the JackJumpers back in the game after cutting the deficit to 59-56.
But as had been the case throughout the match, the Phoenix found a way to snap Tasmania’s momentum and restored their buffer to 64-56 at the final break.
The hosts never really threatened to bridge the gap in the last quarter as they left their second and final game in Launceston this season empty-handed.
The JackJumpers travel to Cairns to play the Taipans this Friday night.
SOUTH EAST MELBOURNE86 (Mitch Creek 21, Alan Williams 16, Gary Browne 15) def TASMANIA 75 (Milton Doyle 16, Jack McVeigh 15, Rashard Kelly 12) at Launceston on Wednesday night.
Originally published as NBL23: The biggest NBL crowd of the season saw the Breakers stun the Kings