Hungry Jack's NBL
Snakes Fire Late to Continue Stunning Charge
It’s official – the Cairns Taipans are the hottest team in the NBL and now back into third position after a fifth successive win after ending the New Zealand Breakers' own five-game winning streak.
The Snakes’ 85-79 win over top-four rivals New Zealand on Thursday at Cairns Convention Centre takes them to a 12-9 record and puts them in the box seat for their first playoff action since the 2016/17 season.
They simply wouldn’t be denied on their home floor.
Trailing 78-71 with half a quarter to play, it felt like the Breakers may have completed a sweep of their five-game road trip dating back to December 22.
But Cairns answered the call as all three imports, Scott Machado, DJ Newbill and Cam Oliver, took the reins as they closed the game out on a 14-1 scoring run.
Taipans coach Mike Kelly said this scalp was massive in terms of their playoff push.
"That was a massive game tonight. New Zealand is playing good basketball: they run good stuff, they attack, they’re really tough to defend, their bigs can shoot and they’ve got guys who can get on the rim," he said.
"That would be way ahead of ourselves to start saying we’re in the finals, but we can see it from here. And the belief is building."
In fact, the Taipans triumvirate accounted for their entire fourth-quarter points haul, minus a solitary free-throw from Nathan Jawai one minute into the final term.
Meanwhile, the Breakers’ season is on a knife edge, with Sunday’s home game against Brisbane a definite must-win as they slip to 9-11.
The Kiwis are playing some of the best basketball the NBL has seen this season but it’s a race against the calendar, with just eight games left to challenge for a playoff berth.
Cairns was led by Scott Machado who posted a game-high 29 points and six rebounds, while the ever-reliable DJ Newbill dropped 20 on just 13 shots.
The visitors were led by former Taipan Rob Loe’s career-best 24 points, Scotty Hopson’s 18 points, eight assists and seven rebounds.
But he did produce 10 turnovers including two careless ones where he stepped out of bounds, including once near half-court with just under a minute left with a point the difference.
Combo guard Sek Henry missed the game with a calf strain, and his poise was missed as the Breakers (18 turnovers) doubled the Taipans total.
Breakers coach Dan Shamir took almost nothing but positives from the game.
"Every loss is disappointing, but it was a great game. I will start with the fact that it was not a hundred-point game… the bottom line in battles like this that are close the whole way, the little things like running out of gas is part of it," he said.
On Henry: "He strained his calf and it’s a day-to-day thing. Hopefully he can play [against Brisbane], we will let everybody know. We scanned it, it is not torn, so it’s basically how he feels."
Loe lit up the first quarter as the only player in double digits after 10 minutes.
The former Snake mopped up the offensive glass and lived down low for cheap buckets, while Hopson (seven points and three dimes in the first term) ran the show.
Down 25-20 at quarter-time, the Snakes bounced back strong to lead 50-44 at the main break.
The entire night was a back-and-forth battle with dozens of highlight plays, and when Hopson drilled a top-of-the-key triple to put his side up seven with under five minutes to go, the game looked theirs to lose.
But Machado showed his worth down the stretch, yet again as the Snakes took their fifth game in a row.
Cairns hits the road for the first time since Boxing Day with a Saturday showdown in Sydney, and New Zealand heads home to host Brisbane on Sunday evening.
NBL ROUND 15
CAIRNS TAIPANS 85 (Machado 29, Newbill 20, Oliver 14)
NEW ZEALAND BREAKERS 79 (Loe 24, Hopson 18, Abercrombie 16)