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GAME REPORT

Phoenix blow away Taipans to stay third

The South East Melbourne Phoenix signalled a warning to the chasing pack that they are not going to surrender their top four spot without a fight, flaying the Cairns Taipans 106-77 at John Cain Arena on Friday night.

There were questions recently over South East Melbourne's ability to secure a finals spot after a season punctuated by injury and a recent form slump that included three losses in four games.

A win was required against the Taipans but the Phoenix delivered something else. The last time we saw snakes punished like this Samuel L Jackson and a plane were involved.

It began with a full court press and trap defence on Cairns' primary weapon Nathan Jawai. It ended in blue murder as the flat Taipans were put to the sword by a hungry Phoenix outfit seeking a maiden finals appearance.

Take your pick on who the star performer was. The Phoenix players were lining up to punish the likely wooden-spooners and were in no mood for mercy. Six players reached double figures and the only players on the entire bench to not score were veteran Adam Gibson and Izayah Le'Afa.

Mitch Creek was perhaps the most influential as he battles to find his best form, notching up 20 points, two rebounds and three assists.

Reuben Te Rangi was the sparkplug to start the third quarter blitz with 14 points, six rebounds and two assists while Yanni Wetzell, Cam Gliddon and Ben Moore all joined the party.

While coach Simon Mitchell called the result a "soft kill", the win meant more to Creek who has been struggling for some time after a difficult year. 

"The last five games, before the last two, I wasn't enjoying my basketball ... I felt like a bit of a ghost. Mentally, once the dust has settled it has really taken a toll on me," Creek said.

"I took a breath and worked really hard to get myself motivated to come out each day. I spoke to Simon, and he was phenomenal, we had a great talk a couple of days ago, and he helped me feel at ease, get a few things off my chest. The support the club has given me has been tremendous."

Mitchell said the focus was firmly on Melbourne United in the Throwdown on Sunday.

"I don't want to be a killjoy, but we have a pretty big game on Sunday," he said.

"We want to present ourselves in the best light."

There was little to be found when sifting through the rubble for the Taipans. Mirko Djeric top-scored with 17 but he was launching grenades while his side trailed by over 30. Jawai had 10 points under extreme pressure, but no other Taipan could manage double figures.

It was a result that left Cairns coach Mike Kelly shellshocked.

"I am still trying to figure that out, it was disappointing," he said.

"South East Melbourne came out with great energy in the last three quarters and ran over the top of us. We didn't give a lot of fight defensively."

There were no excuses from Kelly, who said the Cairns faithful demand more from their team no matter where they are on the ladder.

"All year it has been hard lessons. We have been through ups and downs in Cairns the last three years," Kelly added.

"All we preach, and all the people of Cairns care about, is that these guys go out and play as hard as they can. First and foremost, that is what we will focus on."

The two sides were going basket for basket until the Phoenix deployed the full court press, their defensive pressure allowing them to edge ahead 15-9. Jawai continued his purple patch of form in the low block with a steal to boot - along with drawing a flop warning on Creek.

Creek was aggressive early, but couldn't find his shot which was a common theme as the Taipans also attempted to blaze away unsuccessfully. Both teams were getting good looks but not cashing in, reflected on the scoreboard with the Phoenix leading 21-20 at the first break.

The big guns needed to fire and Ryan Broekhoff and Keifer Sykes answered the call, key buckets allowing the Phoenix to push out by five points. The Taipans weren't about to surrender with tough baskets to Majok Deng and Mojave King keeping things honest.

The Phoenix persisted with their pressing defence and again reaped rewards, suffocating the Taipans and allowing Gliddon to get back-to-back steals. It allowed the game to crack open with the home side opening up a 10-point lead and threatening to leave the Snakes in their dust.

Te Rangi was hurting the Taipans with a perfect 4/4 from the field as he reached double figures and it was the Phoenix leading 57-45 at half-time. 

Cairns was throwing everything they had at their opposition but being undermanned meant they struggled to break the shackles of the press and the double-team on Jawai to apply real scoreboard pressure.

It translated to frustration as Deng reacted angrily to a perception of heavy contact with the officials separating him and Sykes. Offensive rebounds were the real enemy of the Taipans though and Gliddon made them pay with back-to-back triples that pushed the lead to 17 and the result almost beyond doubt.

The hole Cairns had dug for themselves rapidly turned into an abyss as Wetzel completed his triple double, Broekhoff toyed with his opposition with a banked triple and the margin ballooned out to 28. 

By the time the two sides came back on court the cue was well and truly in the rack for Cairns as a full blown massacre unfolded. Tristan Forsyth scored his first NBL points for the Phoenix as every member of the bench joined the party.

Djeric was launching balls from the carpark but it all mattered for nothing as the Phoenix completed a huge win.

HUNGRY JACK'S NBL ROUND 18

SOUTH EAST MELBOURNE PHOENIX 106 (Creek 20, Sykes 16, Te Rangi 14)

CAIRNS TAIPANS 77 (Djeric 17, Jawai 10, Machado 9, Deng 9) 

BOX SCORE 

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