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R1 Report: Snakes steal win over Hawks

Backcourt general Cameron Gliddon underlined his importance to the Cairns Taipans’ quest for NBL supremacy with a standout performance in Thursday night’s season-opening 79-74 home win over Illawarra.

Gliddon scored a game-high 19 points for last season’s grand finalists and also finished with four assists and three rebounds.

Stephen Weigh added 15 points, while fellow forwards Alex Loughton and Mark Worthington combined for 24 points, 12 rebounds, eight assists and seven steals in the absence of injured teammate Cam Tragardh.

Illawarra had their own injury issues, playing without Rhys Martin (knee) and losing American guard Kevin Lisch early in the third quarter when he re-injured his calf.

‘’We had some good parts and some bad parts but that’s expected,’’ Gliddon said of his side’s hot and cold performance.

‘’We’re just so happy we got that first win. That’s the important thing.’’

Cairns assistant coach Gordie McLeod celebrated a triumphant outing against the team he coached for six seasons, though the Hawks made the Taipans work for it.

Leading by five with seven minutes to play, Illawarra were gradually worn down by their opponents, finishing with a whopping 23 turnovers for the game and missing seven of 19 free throws.

Kirk Penney and Jarrad Weeks each chalked up 12 points, while Tyson Demos chipped in 10 and AJ Ogilvy had nine points and nine rebounds.

The visitors were anything but intimidated by the raucous home crowd, as Oscar Forman nailed a pair of quick-release threes for a 10-7 lead midway through the opening quarter.

Taipans forward Torrey Craig entered the fray, scoring four points and grabbing three rebounds to spark a 16-6 run.

The irrepressible Worthington also had an impact off the bench, helping Cairns to a well-deserved 25-16 quarter-time lead.

The Taipans blazed away at 64 per cent from the field and pounded the Hawks under the boards (10-2).

Illawarra hit 6/12 shots in the period but had just as many turnovers.

Hawks guard Tyson Demos ignited a revival with a three-pointer, a steal and a lay-up before the Taipans responded again, carving out a 31-23 lead with five minutes remaining in the half.

But while they continued to bully the Hawks under the glass, the home side’s offence dried up.

Tim Coenraad got Illawarra back on the front foot with a four-point play and Lisch followed with a lay-up and pair of free throws.

Penney’s finger-roll gave the Hawks their first lead since the first quarter, but the Taipans held their nerve and scores were locked at 38-all at half-time.

Gliddon led Cairns with eight points, while three of his teammates had six apiece.

Lisch and Ogilvy paced Illawarra with seven points each.

Defence dominated at both ends of the court in the third quarter and baskets were hard to come by.

Illawarra’s cause wasn’t helped when Lisch was floored by a lethal but legal Loughton screen and limped from the court.

Demos confidently filled the void, boosting his tally to 10 points and cutting the Taipans’ lead to 52-50 with a quarter to play.

Soldiering on without Lisch, the Hawks forged ahead on Cody Ellis’s three, while Penney followed with a three of his own to make it 63-58.

The Taipans regained their poise, scoring eight unanswered points before ex-Sydney guard Weeks drained a three as the shot clock expired to tie the game at 66-all.

Coenraad broke the deadlock with his second three of the night, only for Gliddon’s two free throws to make it 71-all with just over two minutes remaining.

Underrated guard Shaun Bruce calmly knocked down a three for a 74-71 lead with two minutes left and the Taipans never looked back.

‘’It was a bit frustrating at times and it wasn’t the prettiest game but you get a bit of that at the start of the year and it was a good win against a really talented team,’’ Cairns coach Aaron Fearne said.

‘’We showed some good execution down the stretch and made some great defensive plays, and we played poise and patience.’’

Illawarra coach Rob Beveridge thought referees allowed the game to be too physical.

‘’I thought it was going to be a lot more free-flowing. To me it was world championship wrestling again,’’ Beveridge said.

‘’We were told it’s going to be free-flowing and entertaining, and it wasn’t that tonight.

‘’It’s really difficult when we’re a free-flowing team and we made it a half-court grind and it wouldn’t have been entertaining for the fans, so that’s disappointing.

‘’I don’t want to see my team playing like it did tonight. We only shot the ball 47 times and that’s unacceptable.

‘’We have to play an exciting, up-tempo game the fans love to watch, not the rubbish we served up tonight.’’

Cairns have shifted their attention to Saturday’s clash with the Kings in Sydney, while the Hawks are aiming to bounce back in Sunday’s road duel with Melbourne.

BOX SCORE

TOMORROW: The Townsville Crocodiles host Melbourne United from 7:30pm AEDT on FOX SPORTS 500 or via the NBL app.

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