R18 Preview: Illawarra Hawks vs Brisbane Bullets

When: 7.30pm (AEDT), Thursday 31 March 2022

WIN Entertainment Centre, Wollongong

ESPN; Kayo; Sky Sports NZ

Who won last time?
Brisbane 96
(Sobey 17, Cadee 16, Franks 16) d Illawarra 92 (Froling 15, Reath 15, Cleveland 13) – Round 3, Nissan Arena, Brisbane

The Hawks were flying at 3-0 when they headed into the Armoury, but the Bullets’ offence shot them down, racking up 96 points on 14/32 from range and firing up 25 free throws. Brisbane led by 15 early in the second, the aggressive Hawks attacked the interior to pinch the lead in the third, but Nathan Sobey’s nine points in 3:15 down the stretch sealed the deal.

What happened last start?

The Bullets were slow out of the blocks against Tasmania and it cost them, outscoring the JJs 62-52 over the final 28 minutes but coming up a bucket short. The game was a microcosm of Brisbane’s season, walked over by opposition teams when their defence was reactive but fast and fun when they disrupted with energy at that end and pushed the ball offensively.

The Hawks had all the energy in Melbourne on Sunday, destroying the reigning champs with a stunning 56-32 run in 21 minutes from the second to fourth periods. Illawarra jammed United’s ball-screen action, packed the ball-side with help defence and got one deflection after another, which allowed Antonius Cleveland and Co to put on an open-court show.

Who’s in form?

Anthony Drmic – While their big three is quality, Brisbane lacks depth of talent, and were relying on the likes of Jason Cadee, Tyrell Harrison, Tanner Krebs, Deng Deng and Drmic to step up. While Drmic started very slowly, his past three games have produced 16.3ppg, 4.7rpg, 3.0apg, 1.3spg and 7/18 from deep, allowing the Bullets to be competitive sans Sobey.

Antonius Cleveland – AC has been all electricity, torching Melbourne for 20 points, eight rebounds, four steals, two assists and two blocks while drawing eight fouls with his high-speed penetration. The man with James Smith-like athleticism loves the toughest oppo, averaging 17.3ppg, 5.1rpg, 2.4orpg, 2.0apg and 1.9spg in his past eight games against top six teams.

Who needs to be?

Tyler Harvey – It was efficient T-Raw at his best in Melbourne, racking up 19 points on just 12 shot attempts as he picked his moments to shoot, drive and move the ball with near-perfection. In Illawarra’s three-game streak he’s averaged 16.3ppg at 45 per cent, up from 11.1ppg at 34 per cent in his previous seven. If that continues, the Hawks are hard to beat.

Jason Cadee – JC has taken his game to a new level with Sobey out, but his past two games have not been at that level. While he dished 15 dimes in last round’s win/loss split, he also coughed up nine turnovers and shot 1/15 from deep. Against a Hawks team that applies the heat, he must look after the ball with his usual aplomb, and drop some bombs to get the W.

Who’s statting up?

 - Over the Hawks’ past 11 wins, Harvey has averaged 5 three-point attempts and connected at 42 per cent. In their eight losses he averages 9 long-range heaves and makes just 24 per cent

 - When Tim Coenraad plays 15 minutes or more, Illawarra are 7-2. Over the past seven games, the Hawks are +65 in Coenraad’s 15 minutes per game and just +15 in the remaining 25 minutes

 - Brisbane have been outscored by 35 points in the past three opening terms, giving up an average of 28.3 points. They are +24 across the other 10 periods (including OT), giving up 20.8 points per 10 minutes

 - Robert Franks’ past seven games have produced 23 points per game and 9.4 rebounds, shooting 60 per cent from the field, 22/41 from deep and 31/36 from the foul line

Who’s matching up?

Duop Reath v Robert Franks – Reath made an early statement last week as he took Jo Lual-Acuil to school, racking up five points, two boards and two blocks on his counterpart in the opening six minutes. His past three games, all against playoff contenders, have produced 17.7 points, 9.3 rebounds, 4.7 o-boards, 2 blocks and 1.3 steals, while shooting 5/9 from distance.

Shooting from distance is what Franks does, but he made just 1/4 in the loss to Tassie, ending a run of 11-straight games with multiple three-point makes at a 50 per cent clip. ‘Robo’ went 4/8 last time against Illawarra and was +12 in a four-point W. Whichever big man can stretch the floor, while still cleaning the glass will give their team the edge.

Who’s talking the talk?

Where Brian Goorjian was once a closely-guarded media performer, the mature version has returned to the NBL more comfortable in his own skin, and has provided some great insights and honest self-appraisal.

One of the best moments was him opening up about not signing Tim Coenraad last season, then discovering everything the Hawks’ legend brings to the club upon adding him as an injury replacement.

“I feel like right from the beginning, getting to know Tim, I made a mistake,” Goorjian said last season.

“I should have never had him retire when he did. I put it on COVID that I didn’t get the opportunity to see him face-to-face in person, I just went by video and note touch.

“For him to have opportunity come and put his hand up and say, ‘I'm in coach’, he’s been relentless, he’s helped with the team spirit, the culture of the team, he’s a Hawk.”

He's been a key man again in NBL22, and not surprisingly as his minutes have increased, so has the number in Illawarra’s win column.

The past three games he’s averaged 21 minutes per game and delivered 9.7ppg and 5.0 rebounds while shooting 8/16 from range, and his leadership was a big part of Sunday’s win over Melbourne without Goorj.

“He gives us that stretch-four capability … Timmy helps us fill that role, that small alignment and it doesn’t hurt us defensively on the other end,” stand-in coach Jacob Jackomas.

“He’s pretty cool to have around. He’s been in it for a long time and he’s been through a lot of change here in Illawarra. He helped me today with just some little things about the league, he’s been all good.”

Coenraad typifies the Hawks’ team-first culture that has allowed them to weather some rough underperforming patches this season, and Tyler Harvey is another.

After being a superstar of NBL21, Harvey hasn’t been able to find the same magic this year. Where he was relied on as a bulk shooter in his first season, the Hawks need a more efficient version this time around and their on-court leader is fine with that.

“This year we have a lot of offensive talent, and if that means some games I don’t get as many shots that’s fine. I want to win games and I want to win a championship,” Harvey said.

“I really don’t worry about the offensive side, we’re more focused on the defensive side and defence creates offensive opportunities.

“I really don’t think too much about it and I think that’s the way to go about it, I know shots will come, they will present themselves and I’ll be ready to take them when they do.”

Coach Jackomas is confident the Hawks are “trending in the right way”, while Brisbane point guard Jason Cadee is worried about a disturbing trend after his team gave up another big early lead to the JackJumpers before almost clawing it back.

“Another night of chasing a lead. I say it all the time it’s hard to do, it’s hard to chase team in this league, you have to be almost perfect,” he said.

“We fought hard, I just think at times in situations like this it’s noticeable – we played them three weeks ago we had Sobes, tonight without Sobes that pressure, when I know I've got him in the backcourt it’s a lot easier to beat pressure. Tonight it was pretty noticeable.

“And we’re missing Tyrell (Harrison), two starters we haven't had for a lot of the season, it’s part of it and you’ve just got to keep fighting, keep working to find ways to just keep pushing forward in the right way and do things that can counter that.

“It’s probably been one of our struggles, we’re just hanging around finding our way into games, now it’s just trying to find ways to get over the top of teams.”

It's when Brisbane up the defensive ante – usually courtesy of Anthony Drmic and Deng Deng – that they charge back into games, and Cadee wants that intensity from tip against the Hawks.

“They’ve found a bit of form. They were struggling for a little bit there but they’ve started to find their way. Obviously a lot of talent, high-powered team,” he said.

“Them on their home court, they're stuck in a battle trying to get into the four, we've got to find a way to come out aggressive and really get after them.”


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