Hungry Jack's NBL
Djeric delivers Taipans a stunning upset win
Despite missing a couple more bodies and falling down 16 against a South East Melbourne Phoenix team locked into third spot, the Cairns Taipans snapped their eight-game losing streak in remarkable style with a dominant finish at home on Friday night.
The Taipans were without Mojave King who put up a career-best 25 points in a loss at the Cairns Pop-Up Arena to the Brisbane Bullets on Wednesday night.
That was supposed to be the last home game for the season for the Snakes, but Victoria's COVID-19 lockdown saw the Phoenix head to the Tropical Far North and for much of the night they appeared to have the number of the Taipans on the back of their hot three-point shooting.
Already on a four-game winning streak and in third position, the Phoenix led by as much as 16 points and were still up 81-69 with seven minutes to go in the game, and really there was nothing to suggest what was to come.
With King joining Cam Oliver, Kouat Noi and Fabijan Krslovic as players done for the season for the Taipans, they rose in remarkable fashion in front of their home fans to close the game on the most incredible run of scoring 23 of 27 points.
Cairns would go on to record the stunning 94-87 win to snap their losing streak and it was on the back of four monstrous three-pointers down the stretch in a three-minute burst from Mirko Djeric.
The Taipans would end up shooting 53 per cent from the field and 15/25 at 60 per cent from downtown.
Majok Deng was tremendous all night with 22 points and three assists while Jordan Ngatai continued his career-best season with 14 points on 4/8 three-point shooting.
Scott Machado worked into the game nicely for 13 points, five rebounds and three assists with Tad Dufelmeier a real spark plug with 14 points and five assists.
Taipans coach Mike Kelly was delighted with the result for a whole host of reasons.
"It was great. The guys stayed with it and I'm super happy for them to get some payoff and see what getting some stops does, and obviously we made some shots so it was a lot of fun for the crowd out there," Kelly said.
"The guys did a good job of staying with it even when we gave up a lead, and found it difficult to score in that third quarter. They moved on and played the next play so that was kind of nice to see, and then they hit some shots down the stretch. It was good for our guys."
It could end up a loss to haunt the Phoenix too who now slip to an 18-15 record on the season to only be percentage ahead in third spot of the Illawarra Hawks who won earlier in the night in New Zealand.
The Phoenix still shot 50 per cent from the field and 48 per cent from deep, but 14 turnovers hurt as did losing the battle on the glass.
Yanni Wetzell had a career-best scoring night with 25 points and seven rebounds for South East Melbourne with Mitch Creek adding 13 points, five rebounds and four assists, Keifer Sykes 12 points and seven assists, Ryan Broekhoff nine points and six steals, and Ben Moore nine points.
Phoenix coach Simon Mitchell was frustrated that his team went away from executing offensively what had been working so well.
"I'm definitely going to have to go back and watch the video tape, but you could feel it. Firstly, Cairns were fantastic with the adjustments they made and they shot the ball at an unbelievable level in that last quarter," Mitchell said.
"We assisted them to do that, though, and our turnovers were awful which was led by a lack of direction and purpose I think. We became a stagnant, half court jam it into the post team which is not who we are.
"We are at our best when the ball is popping and going from side to side, and we use pick-and-roll at a high level, and we went away from that. It bit us in the bum."
With Mojave King joining Kouat Noi, Cam Oliver and Fabijan Krslovic missing for the Taipans, Jordan Ngatai stared strongly with a pair of three balls but Yanni Wetzell hit seven quick points himself to help the Phoenix to an early 12-8 edge.
But a four-point play from Ngatai saw him have 10 points early for the Snakes and then when Scott Machado got his first score of the game followed by a Majok Deng three-pointer and Tad Dufelmeier basket, the Taipans were up 21-14.
South East Melbourne did hit back, though, with triples to Keifer Sykes and Ryan Broekhoff to be within a point at quarter-time.
Wetzell and Ben Moore then helped the Phoenix take the lead to start the second term but this was a determined Taipans outfit knowing this would officially be their last game in front of their home fans.
A three ball to Deng and another basket to Dufelmeier had them back up by six but South East Melbourne responded with a 12-2 to hold a 47-44 advantage heading into half-time.
The Phoenix just shot the lights out from beyond the arc in the opening six minutes of the second half. Cam Gliddon hit a pair of threes with Kyle Adnam, Mitch Creek and Keifer Sykes also connecting as the lead blew out to 67-53.
The Taipans weren’t going to go down without a fight, though, and late triples from Jarrod Kenny and Dufelmeier brought them within 10 again by quarter-time.
The Phoenix were still up 12 with seven minutes left but the game took a remarkable turn from that point. It started with a couple of Deng baskets but it was Mirko Djeric who turned match-winner.
Showing the shooting confidence few possess, he drained four huge three-pointers in the space of three minutes to turn an eight-point deficit before he hit his first into a four-point lead when he connected on his fourth.
Cairns completed a run of scoring 23-4 in remarkable fashion to claim the seven-point win and send their home fans away happy for the last time this season.
Cairns will now head to Sydney to take on Melbourne United on Monday while South East Melbourne takes on the Brisbane Bullets on Wednesday.
HUNGRY JACK'S NBL ROUND 20
SOUTH EAST MELBOURNE PHOENIX 87 (Wetzell 25, Creek 13, Sykes 12)
CAIRNS TAIPANS 94 (Deng 22, Djeric 16, Ngatai 14, Dufelmeier 14)