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Bruce Almighty

A trip home for Christmas and a quiet chat with his older brother helped prepare Cairns Taipans point guard Shaun Bruce for his outstanding New Year’s Eve performance against New Zealand. Bruce filled in masterfully for injured starter Markel Starks on Thursday night, leading the Taipans to a crucial home win over the reigning Champs. In his second career start, Bruce played a team-high 36 minutes and finished with a career-high 17 points on 6-for-7 shooting (including 2-for-3 from long range), 5 rebounds, 4 assists and 1 steal. It was an outstanding performance from the 24-year-old understudy. “Shaun was fantastic,” Cairns coach Aaron Fearne said post-game. “His push and poise, he made some big shots and backed himself … you get into a situation tonight where your point guard is out and we’ve only got him left and he’s got to go out and run the team and the team needs that. He was ready to go and was fantastic.” An early hamstring injury to Starks forced Bruce to play heavy minutes in the Taipans’ narrow loss to Perth two weeks ago, setting the scene for his NYE performance. With a sizeable break between the Perth game and last night’s showdown with New Zealand, Bruce took the opportunity last week to head home to Horsham, Victoria, for Christmas with the family. It was there that his older brother, Aaron, took the chance to impart some words of wisdom on his sibling. Aaron, of course, wore the green and gold for the Boomers at the 2006 World Championships and played in the NBL for both Adelaide 36ers and Sydney Kings before retiring in 2013. “Going home and seeing the family over Christmas I had some time with Aaron,” the younger Bruce told nbl.com.au. “He watches all the games and he kind of pulled me aside and told me everything I’ve been doing wrong like a good older brother does. He definitely got in my ear a bit more about being aggressive.” It worked, with Shaun striking almost the perfect balance between ‘control’ and ‘attack’ against the Breakers. “I’ve got to play a role and then whatever opportunity is in front of me I’ve got to take it and I had a few opportunities to do that tonight. I took some shots and was able to make them,” Bruce reflected. Import Torrey Craig also stepped up for Cairns on NYE, making his first career start in place of the injured Stephen Weigh and responding with a 21-point, 12-rebound performance. Breakers coach Dean Vickerman sung the praises of Craig and Bruce post-game. “Torrey Craig and Shaun Bruce came in and played very well tonight,” Vickerman said. “I thought those two guys stepped up in the positions that they needed to and we probably didn’t have enough guys to step up to cover [Tom Abercrombie].” Bruce’s battle with New Zealand point guard Cedric Jackson was especially important for the home side. The youngster never took a backward step to his more celebrated opponent, limiting Jackson to 8 points, 4 rebounds, 6 assists, 1 steal and 4 turnovers. “I’ve got a lot of respect for Cedric, he’s done it all and he’s won Championships,” Bruce told nbl.com.au post-game. “We had some schemes in place to try to nullify him and Corey (Webster) and I think we executed them well. Our big guys were huge on them on-balls tonight.” Lessons learned at training defending the super-quick Markel Starks also came in handy against the 2013 MVP. “Markel and Cedric have a lot of similarities. They’re both lightning quick so that definitely was one thing that helped prepare me,” Bruce said. In the end though, it was the words of his older brother that proved most valuable in the lead-up to Thursday’s Grand Final rematch and Shaun was thrilled to have put them into action. “The way Aaron used to play, he never died wondering so he’ll definitely be proud of me tonight.”
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