Cairns Taipans v New Zealand Breakers
When: 7.50pm (AEDT), Monday 21 January
Where: Cairns Convention Centre
Broadcast: Fox Sports; Sky Sports NZ
The last time
New Zealand 89 (Weeks 17, Long 16, Abercrombie 14, Ili 14) d Cairns 78 (Trimble 23, Hall 14, Jawai 11), Cairns Convention Centre, Round 9
The Breakers stunned The Snakepit crowd with a 27-13 fourth term to run away with an 11-point win. NZ led for much of the game, but Nate Jawai and Alex Loughton carried the home team to the lead at the last break, before Shea Ili and Jarrad Weeks picked up the D and delivered the O, the point guard pair combining for 31 points in a game-winning double act.
The Breakers’ playoff hopes were given a severe shave on Friday in Wollongong and now they head into last chance saloon. This round, with games against the two opponents closest to the bottom, was a chance to put themselves squarely in the post-season race, but now they must overcome the Taipans to keep their chances anything more than mathematical.
The good news for the Kiwis is Cairns’ bubble may have spectacularly burst in the final quarter against Melbourne. Having found form befitting a playoff contender, the Taipans let a major W slip through their fingers and, with the exception of Melo Trimble and Rob Loe, barely offered a fight in Brisbane. Can they regain some spirit, or has the descent resumed?
Melo Trimble v Shea Ili – While Ili has his critics, he has delivered consistent defensive performances and has the second best plus/minus of NZ’s starting crew. Last time against Cairns he led the effort that kept Trimble to 6-of-16 from the field, while nailing 5-of-7 himself. Melo is in another world of form at the moment though, with 97 points at 56 per cent from the field and a ridiculous 16-of-21 from deep in his past three games.
DJ Newbill v Patrick Richard – Newbill went 3-of-10 and had 4 turnovers in the first meeting with his former team, and will be very keen to put on a better show this time around. Richard went 2-of-7 that night, but with Corey Webster unable to find his best form, the Breakers need him replicating Friday’s 14-point, 8 rebound, 4-assist, 2-steal effort.
Nate Jawai v Shawn Long – This is the match-up everyone wants to see, the awesome athleticism of Long against the formidable frame of Jawai. Long took the honours last time with 16 points and 13 boards to Jawai’s 11 and 10, with both players limited by foul trouble, and the battle to expose Long’s fouling and Jawai’s immobility should again be intriguing.
Big Nate barely fired a shot, literally, in his team’s capitulation to Brisbane, finishing with 2 points on 1-of-3 and 2 rebounds in 11 minutes. Long was an offensive bright spot for New Zealand in the ‘Gong with 17 points at 54 per cent, but he managed just 2 defensive boards and 0 blocked shots as the Hawks dominated his team’s interior. Time to bounce back.
Armani’s iPhone ? Shawn’s iPhone
— NBL (@NBL) January 18, 2019
When Cairns keep opponents below 90 points in regulation they are 3-8 with a differential of +11 after 40 minutes. When they don’t, they are 0-10 with a differential of -171.
The Taipans have conceded 90 or more points at home six times this season, more than the previous four years combined.
New Zealand are 5-1 when they keep opponents below 85 points and 3-10 when they don’t. Cairns have scored above 85 points in regulation just twice in their past 18 games.
The Breakers concede 49 per cent two-point shooting this season, second best in the league. Against Illawarra they allowed 36-of-58 inside at 62 per cent.
Sucked in. It’s an often-used refrain in the schoolyard, but it also aptly described what happened to the Cairns Taipans in Brisbane on Saturday night.
“I think they set the tone and we tried to react to whatever they threw at us and we reacted poorly,” coach Mike Kelly said.
“When you’re playing on the back foot and they’re in attack mode it’s not a good combination.”
In 2019, the Taipans had been an impressively-organised team, understanding that Nate Jawai and Melo Trimble were the pillars of their offence and either riding them for points or feeding off them for open looks.
Not only did that help score more efficiently, it also took a world of pressure off their previously leaky transition defence, helping them hold opponents to 82ppg in regulation across the first four games of the new year.
But Brisbane’s intense, scrambling defence dared them to play fast, one-on-one basketball and the Taipans fell head first into that trap.
Not only did they struggle to put points on the board, they then faced a relentless wave of Bullets in transition and simply didn’t find a way to turn that tide for 40 minutes.
— NBL (@NBL) January 19, 2019
“Our group has been great all year as far as energy and passion and playing hard together and tonight that was missing,” Kelly said.
They quickly get a chance to redeem themselves, however, taking on a New Zealand team shattered after their final-stanza capitulation in Wollongong that puts them on the playoff precipice.
“We just completely broke down, we could barely get the ball up the court,” coach Kevin Braswell lamented.
“The last five minutes of the game when you’re in one of those games you have to execute, you have to be so en pointe and sharp with all of your execution, you have to put guys in (the right) places and that’s where we just broke down.”
They also fell into the trap of relying on their offence to get the job done, after “scoring whenever we wanted to in the first three quarters”, according to Braswell.
That high-scoring 30 minutes masked the issues they were having at the other end, conceding 72 points on two-point baskets as they were trounced 70-34 on points in the paint.
— Illawarra Hawks (@illawarrahawks) January 18, 2019
The final term was gruesome viewing for Kiwis as Illawarra racked up 34 points on 15-of-20 from the field, with 23 of those points scored inside the key.
“I think we kind of scattered on defence towards the end of the game,” centre Shawn Long said.
“We were all over the place, kind of lost our composure as a group. We tried to get it back together and we just couldn’t.”
For Braswell, a key to fixing that is efficient offence – particularly if Tai Wesley and Long again receive double coverage – to let their zone defences to get set against Cairns, who went 8-of-26 from range on Saturday.
“It’s making sure we stay composed in those moments. I thought that overall we did some good things out there. These guys were getting double teamed, they found the right guys, those guys were open,” he said.
“If it’s throwing the ball in the post and getting doubled and taking wide-open shots, as long as you know where your shots are coming from your defence will be better.”
Can the Breakers apply the sort of defensive heat Brisbane employed to shake the Snakes out of their offence? If they can it will open up the transition floodgates for athletes like Long, Jarrad Weeks, Shea Ili, Tom Abercrombie, Finn Delany and Patrick Richard.
— NBL (@NBL) January 18, 2019
If they are relying on winning a shoot-out without putting in the defensive effort, however, they might just give the Taipans a sniff, their confidence at a low ebb but a good quarter can quickly reverse that mindset.
Cairns need a quick reversal, otherwise their final eight games could be a long run home, and the loyal support their fans have given throughout a tough season could be tested.
“The crowd has been fantastic, and they’ve always appreciated – even in a loss, which we’ve had a few this year – the effort, so that’s key for us as we build this thing,” Kelly said.
“We’re not just saying we need to win this many games, we’re saying this is how we need to play and we didn’t do that tonight and the fans would see that, and we need to do it on Monday.
“It’s just not acceptable for us as a group but also for Cairns, they’re behind us because we’re working hard and giving an effort every night.”
— NBL (@NBL) January 13, 2019
The Taipans have a red-hot chance against a Breakers team that will struggle to defend Melo Trimble off ball-screens, and who are vulnerable to Long picking up fouls guarding Nate Jawai.
They need to control tempo far better than they did Saturday, as high-scoring games have been their kryptonite this season, but coach Kelly believes their issues from the Brisbane game are easily rectifiable
“Keep the ball in front of us, play pick-and-roll defence, get a hand up on shots, rebound the ball and offensively not get pushed out of our sets,” he said, matter-of-factly.
“Really simple fundamental things, which I hope that’s a good thing because I think it all comes from energy and playing hard and fighting.”