NORTH Queensland witnessed a theft last night as the Cairns Taipans snatched a Round 1 victory last night against reigning grand finalist Sydney Kings, 87-86, at the Cairns Pop Up Arena. The result was decided thanks to a last second miss at the buzzer by Casper Ware which bounced off the back of the rim.
Offence was free-flowing to say the least in the initial 10 minutes, with the Kings edging out a comfortable six-point lead after one and putting up 30 points in the process.
Most noticeably early on was the duel that presented itself between two of the best point guards in the entire NBL. Ware and Scott Machado each led their sides in scoring at the opening intermission, while Machado particularly was the Taipans’ sole facilitator with all six of his team’s assists through 15 minutes.
In areas such as three-point shooting, assists and blocks on the defensive end, the Kings made their mark on the scoreboard in other ways. This included points in the paint, from turnovers and from off the bench – enough to give Sydney the subtle one-point lead at half-time.
Mirko Djeric and Machado each led Cairns on the scoring front through 20 minutes with 12 points each, but the efforts made by Mike Kelly’s squad were upended by Ware’s ability to convert, putting up 15 points by the long huddle and holding a minimal 51-50 lead.
Picking up the intensity early on in the second half, Brad Newley and Dejan Vasiljevic started to provide some results for Sydney, but Cairns’ frontcourt weapons became prominent too, as Majok Deng and Kouat Noi started to become a nuisance down low.
The third quarter became a term of ups and downs with each team gaining the upper hand on multiple occasions. The lead would change hands at four different times in the period, but Sydney held serve with a minute to play going up by six points. A Mojave King layup with 40 seconds left before three quarter time made a two-point difference, but Newley’s put-back layup on the buzzer placed the score at 70-64 with a quarter to go and pushed the lead back out to six points.
It seemed that whenever the Taipans garnered momentum, the Kings had a way of re-establishing command of the game. Additional efforts made by Cameron Oliver and others in the starting five needed to come through in the last couple of minutes, and with 140 seconds left Machado handed his team the lead after his third three of the night. But again, second-year prospect in Jordan Hunter gave the lead back to Sydney after laying up his ninth point with a minute and a half left.
Free throws made by Oliver changed the lead once again, setting up a last second shot for Ware. Occurring on the three-point attempt and after a referee consultation, a last second foul on Machado placed the ball on the sideline with three seconds remaining. But Cairns would hold on after one last attempt by Ware for the win, securing their first win of the season by a single point.
All five of Cairns’ starters achieved totals of over 10 points with Machado at the forefront once again. He finished with 17 points, eight rebounds and eight assists, as Djeric was effective from behind the arch per usual with four triples amongst his 15 points. Oliver left the floor with another 12-point and 11-rebound double-double, while Deng and Noi compiled 13 and 12 points respectively.
Ware concluded his night with a modest 18 points, as the rest of his fellow starters were relatively absent all night. Vasiljevic’s 15 points and four rebounds summarised a decent NBL debut, while league veteran Newley looked good with 14 points and six rebounds.
Cairns look for more good fortune when they face The Hawks to close out Round One on Monday and slow the roll of an outfit with a new sense of confidence. Sydney returns to the hardwood a week from now to exact revenge on the Taipans in the reverse fixture during Round 2.
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