THE National Basketball League (NBL) returned this week, and we witnessed a number of compelling games, several upsets and a mini playoff series between the Brisbane Bullets and Melbourne United.
Sydney Kings (77) defeated Perth Wildcats (72)
The Sydney Kings have enjoyed quite the resurgence in season 2018/19. After spending the majority of the previous season down the bottom of the table, the Kings have put together a strong opening two months and find themselves right in the hunt for a championship. They kicked off Round 8 on Thursday night at home, taking on the top-of-the-table Perth Wildcats. Both teams struggled to find their offence in what was a defensive struggle for much of the game, but it was the Kings who made just enough plays to secure the huge victory, one that gives their title chase all the more credibility. A lot of credit has to go to head coach, Andrew Gaze who put together a masterful defensive game plan to shut down the explosive offence of the Wildcats. They needed every bit of the defensive effort with their star, Jerome Randle struggling on offence for the entire game, scoring in single digits for the first time this season. Brad Newley and Kevin Lisch stepped up, each scoring 16 and taking over the offence to lead their side to victory.
Cairns Taipans (84) defeated by Illawarra Hawks (95)
The Taipans were hoping the week’s break would allow them time to refresh, refine the game plan and bounce back from a horror start to the season. The Hawks on the other hand seemed to be hitting their stride nicely prior to the time off and looked to continue their impressive run of form. The Taipans fed off the energy of their home crowd early on, and that allowed them to stay in the contest with a hot shooting Illawarra. They carried the momentum from the first half with belief growing as the game went on that they could pull off the upset. To the Hawks’ credit though, their superior talent shone through in the fourth quarter as they pushed their lead from seven at the final break to 11 points at the end of the game. DJ Newbill continued what has been a nice stretch for him, scoring 21 points in support of the ever reliable Melo Trimble, who added his usual strong scoring output with 19. For the Hawks, their offence produced five double-figure scorers, led by Todd Blanchfield’s 20 and Brian Conklin’s 17.
Brisbane Bullets (97) defeated Melbourne United (94)
The Bullets hosted Melbourne United in their first of two games over the weekend as the teams began their mini playoff series. The Bullets have shown the ability to compete with the best teams in the league all season, but have been unable to close the deal when it matters most. Melbourne United continued their recent trend of being fast starters as they jumped out to a double-figure lead early on in the game, a lead they would maintain for much of the first three quarters. The Bullets however were able to flip the script in the fourth quarter as they outscored United 28-14 and ran over the top to steal the unlikely victory thanks to some late game clutch free throws from various players. Lamar Patterson was on fire the entire game, as he poured in a season-high 33 points on 11/14 from the field. His contributions were much needed as the Bullets got very little production from their second unit, who scored just 10 points for the game. The loss for Melbourne United proves costly as they lost their opportunity to close the gap on the Wildcats following their loss to the Kings earlier in the round. Similarly, they had strong performances from their starters but much like Brisbane, got little to no production from the bench unit.
New Zealand Breakers (70) defeated by Sydney Kings (71)
After an impressive win over the top-of-the-table Wildcats, the Kings hit the road for a duel with the Breakers in what could best be described as a classic trap game. The Breakers got their offence going early and looked poised for a strong outing. Much like their game against the Wildcats, it was the defensive performance of the Kings which kept them in the contest throughout the first half as they held the Breakers to just 12 points in the second quarter. This tremendous defence continued in the third as this time they held the Breakers to just six points while getting their own offence going, which helped build a 15-point lead heading into the final frame. The Breakers put forth a courageous rally in the fourth and had a chance to steal the game in the final minutes before a timely basket from Andrew Bogut pushed the lead to four points with under a minute to play, a lead which would be just enough, with the Kings holding on for a one point win. Jarrad Weeks and Tom Abercrombie combined for 37 to keep the Breakers into the contest but unfortunately for New Zealand, their efforts would not be enough. Andrew Bogut had his best game in the NBL with 23 points and 16 rebounds as well as several big defensive stops to lead his side to another impressive victory and continue Sydney’s climb up the ladder.
Adelaide 36ers (86) defeated by Illawarra Hawks (87)
The 36ers’ early season has been one of disappointment and inconsistency. The defending runners up were expected to feature deep into the playoffs once again but have been unable to recapture the form that saw them rise to that level a year ago. They hosted the in-form Hawks, who continue to surprise and leap up into the upper echelon of the standings. The game provided one of the better endings of the season with the Hawks coming from nowhere to escape Adelaide with a win. Trailing by seven points with under two minutes to play, the Hawks turned to the offensive brilliance of Todd Blanchfield, who scored five quick points to cut the 36ers’ lead to just two points with a minute and a half remaining. From there, Jordair Jett took over the game, scoring the final three points, including the game-winning layup, as the Hawks shocked the 36ers to win yet another thriller. Their balance on offence continues to be a key, with the coaching staff seemingly being able to count on anyone at any time to be productive and lead them to a win. Five players once again scored in double figures, including two off the bench.
Perth Wildcats (94) defeated Cairns Taipans (72)
It was a case of wrong place, wrong time for the Cairns Taipans. The worst side in the competition took on the best side in the competition, with the Wildcats focused on erasing the memory of their loss to the Kings on Thursday night and featuring the return of superstar, Bryce Cotton, who had missed the last two games. The Wildcats jumped in front early and dispatched of the Taipans with ease en route to a 22-point win. Bryce Cotton played well on return, despite his shot not falling early. Cotton finished the game with 21 points on 7/17 from the field in what was a solid but unspectacular return. His teammate, Nicholas Kay stuffed the stat sheet with 18 points, eight rebounds and six assists as he produced a strong all-round game. Terrico White also added 15 off the bench as the Wildcats proved the loss to Sydney was just a minor setback in a long season, and re-established themselves as the favourites to claim the title. The Taipans experienced just how difficult it is to remain competitive when Melo Trimble struggles, as Trimble scored a season-low eight points on just 2/9 from the field, as the Wildcats were determined to limit his influence on the contest.
Melbourne United (74) defeated by Brisbane Bullets (90)
In the final game of the round, Melbourne United hosted the Bullets, as the two sides completed their home and home series. After outplaying the Bullets for three of the four quarters the other night, United were hoping for a full four-quarter effort which would see them split the two games. There were promising signs early on as the team played a terrific first quarter on both ends of the floor, followed up by another impressive second term. It all went down hill from there unfortunately for Melbourne United, as they came out of the locker room lifeless in the second half. This allowed the Bullets to assert control of the game by virtue of a 48-27 second half as they ran out comfortable winners in the end, completing a sweep of the weekend series. Outside of Casper Ware who put in 22, United struggled to get any contributions on the offensive end. This, combined with the hot shooting of Brisbane in the second half, would prove to be their downfall. The Bullets got strong contributions from their entire starting line-up with four of their five starters scoring in double figures, including 14 from Reuben Te Rangi off the bench. The win pushes the Bullets into the top four and just one game behind United in the loss column, while for United, they hold onto second place for now, but trail the Kings in the loss column.