Hungry Jack's NBL
Phoenix Claim Important Win Over Hawks
The South East Melbourne Phoenix geared up for a run of road matches by delivering another impressive offensive display highlighted by Tai Wesley's best game for the club in Saturday night's 112-102 win over the Illawarra Hawks.
The game will be the last at Melbourne Arena for the Phoenix until February 9 against the Sydney Kings, but they will at least hit the road with some confidence on the back of a 10-point win where John Roberson, Wesley and Mitch Creek combined for 78 of those 112 points.
The defensive effort to allow the Hawks to score 102 points might have not been what coach Simon Mitchell was after with Todd Blanchfield finishing with 22 and Sunday Dech 20, but it was a performance the Phoenix can take heart from as they chase down fourth spot.
If South East Melbourne are a heat-check team, hot and cold depending on the fixture at hand; then Roberson is the ultimate heat-check player. When he's firing, so far the Phoenix have been mighty tough to beat.
Roberson started humming in the opening quarter – with eight points in the first six minutes – and he set the tone for the rest of the evening.
By the half he had 15 points, and by full-time 28 – and he did all of this without being a ball-dominant guard. His five assists were nothing to sneeze at either.
He got plenty of help with Creek finishing with 25 points and five rebounds. He only scored seven points in the opening half, but made a second-half explosion centred upon deadly shooting.
When Creek must be accounted for as an outside shooter, Creek can take any team – be it the Phoenix, Boomers or an NBA squad – to another level.
But most encouraging for the Phoenix was the performance of Wesley for 25 points, seven rebounds and five assists in 31 and-a-half minutes.
Wesley admits it was frustrating missing virtually the whole first half of the season with his hamstring injury, but is starting to feel he's warming into things nicely now.
"It was a bit frustrating. You want to come back and pick up right where you left off. I had a good preseason... definitely a step in the right direction tonight," Wesley said.
"The ball is coming around. It is going to be your turn. That's the beauty of having such a high-powered offence."
And finally, the NBL’s human enigma Terry Armstrong saw some court time to close out this one – albeit just 34.8 seconds.
Blanchfield has heaped much of the Hawks’ offensive burden upon his shoulders since the season-long departure of Aaron Brooks and the weeks-long loss of LaMelo Ball, and he did so again for 22 points on 8/14 shooting.
Dech continues to stand up in a point guard role he might not totally be suited to as he continues to firm in the Most Improved Player race with another 20 points and six boards.
Hawks coach Matt Flinn can't fault his team's effort, but realises they just ran into quite an offensive team tonight.
"We certainly ran into a white-hot team. I don't know what they shot at half-time but it was about 70 (percent)," Flinn said.
"Tonight we threw a lot at them, so credit to South East Melbourne and Simon [Mitchell]. He is doing a great job with that team.
"When you have a guy like Roberson out on the floor he can certainly hurt you. We were the victim of running into a very good basketball team."
At 8-9, the Phoenix are still on the wrong side of .500 but are right in the hunt for that fourth spot battle with the Cairns Taipans (9-9) and Adelaide 36ers (8-9).
The race between for that fourth spot promises to be one of the more compelling storylines of the season, and it might not just be between those three teams with the New Zealand Breakers (7-10) having won three straight and Brisbane Bullets (7-10) still in touch.
Both teams are next in action on New Year's Eve with the Hawks hosting the Sydney Kings in Tim Coenraad's 300th NBL game. The Phoenix head to Cairns in what could be a pivotal clash in that top four race.
NBL ROUND 13
SOUTH EAST MELBOURNE PHOENIX 112 (Roberson 28, Wesley 25, Creek 25)
ILLAWARRA HAWKS 102 (Blanchfield 22, Dech 20, Hobson 13)