Tough love sparks Taipans to drought-breaking win

Reigning NBL Coach of the Year Mike Kelly had seen enough. He wasn’t playing nice guy anymore with the Cairns Taipans on Monday night and that approach helped to spark his team to a terrific all-round performance to beat the New Zealand Breakers 84-69.

The Taipans were back at the Cairns Pop-Up Arena on Monday night having held big leads in each of their past two games before being overrun including against the Breakers on the same floor on Saturday.

That put them in a hole at 1-6 on a six-game losing streak and while Kelly has done so well already as a coach because of the way he gets on with his players, he couldn’t afford to accept anything but 100 per cent what he was asking on Monday night.

The Breakers scored the first bucket of the game with Finn Delany feeding Rob Loe, and already Kelly had seen enough. He pulled Kouat Noi from the court, put on the little used George Blagojevic and he demanded his team follow the game plan.

And really for the rest of the night they did exactly that and produced their best performance of the season to return to the winner's list with the 15-point victory.

That move was the catalyst. Blagojevic provided an immediate spark and went on to play the best game of his NBL career and when he returned to the floor, Noi likely produced the best showing of his time in the league as well.

On top of that, Scott Machado and Cam Oliver received the support they've been needing all season and the Snakes got the win they desperately needed.

To the Breakers credit even on a night where little went right and they shot just 4/29 from three-point land and Tai and Corey Webster combined for just 20 points on 8/26 shooting including 1/12 from deep, they did fire back late.

Lamar Patterson threatened again to take over and Jarrad Weeks running the point had them within striking distance, but the Taipans on this night had all the answers.

Majok Deng played with great energy on both ends for Cairns to finish with 21 points, three rebounds and two blocks with Noi adding 18 points and five boards, and Blagojevic 10 points, three rebounds and two steals.

Machado (13 points, 11 assists) and Oliver (eight points, 11 rebounds) still played well too for the Snakes.

Taipans coach Mike Kelly was delighted with his team's effort and especially what he got from both Blagojevic and Noi.

"It feels good and a lot better than losing. I just loved the effort and energy from the guys for four quarters. It wasn’t always pretty but it was always good energy from the guys," Kelly said.

"At the start, Kouat just made a couple of mistakes on the scout and what we were trying to do so we took him off and spoke to him about remembering those things, and George came on and played very well.

"Kouat was still up and about on the bench, and cheering for George which was great and then he was ready to go when he went back in, and played really well himself. We're just trying to consistently do the things we're staying we are going to do, and guys did that tonight."

Tai Webster still top-scored for New Zealand with 13 points while Finn Delany scored 11, Rob Loe 10, Tom Abercrombie eight and Lamar Patterson eight.

Breakers coach Dan Shamir didn’t hide his disappointment post-match.

"We're disappointed. It was a bad game for us and we didn’t have a lot of flow in our game," Shamir said.

"Partially that's because of Taipans coverages, they came with a lot of switches that by the finish takes a little bit of your flow away because you can do various things, but primarily you attack mismatches. 

"That did not go so well for us in the beginning and while we struggled there, also with their shot making we were a step slow. We got behind and chased them for the whole game. I'm disappointed with the performance and obviously with the result."

The Taipans took over momentum ironically when George Blagojevic came into the game after a minute for Kouat Noi. Blagojevic hit five quick points and provided the spark before Noi returned for seven quick points and the Taipans were up six after one.

That advantage grew to double-figures early in the second quarter and despite a flurry for the Breakers from Finn Delany, the Taipans remained in charge up 11 at the main break.

The Snakes then opened the second half with a 13-2 run to break the game wide open with that including three balls from Noi, Jordan Ngatai and Deng while Deng also threw down one of his three big two-handed dunks of the game.

Tai Webster tried to lead a Breakers fightback but Cairns still led by 16 after three. But there was one more New Zealand flourish left and they did get back within eight, but Deng was the one with the answers scoring Cairns' last seven points as they secured the 15-point win.


CAIRNS TAIPANS 84 (Deng 21, Noi 18, Machado 13)

NEW ZEALAND BREAKERS 69 (T Webster 13, Delany 11, Loe 10) 



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