The ‘Bair’ is back.
While the shooters provided the entertainment, Cameron Bairstow showed the grit and grind under the hoop to lead the Brisbane Bullets to a thrilling 100-96 win over the Perth Wildcats on Thursday.
His performance came after an horrific knee injury – that saw his anterior and medial ligaments torn and robbed him of any chance of playing in season 2017/18.
On Thursday, the former Chicago Bull showed that is all behind him with a haul 18 points in a willing performance.
Cam Gliddon (15 points, four three-pointers) and Tall Blacks forward Rueben TeRangi (14 points, three triples) blazed away from the downtown in a sublime shooting display from the Bullets.
As a team, they went 14/26 from long-range on the night.
Coach Andrej Lemanis praised Bairstow for his performance and the hard work that had gone into getting back on the court.
“He hasn’t played competitive basketball for two years so he is a work in progress,” Lemanis said.
“He has been dedicated to the cause and it has been a pleasure to see how hard he has worked to get back. He is starting to see the rewards from that.”
Jason Cadee had 14 points and seven assists and said the key adjustment the Bullets had made was simplifying their game plan.
“The last few weeks we have complicated things too much,” he said.
“We haven’t been together long enough to do that.”
Perth’s imports Terrico White (19 points) and Bryce Cotton (17) toiled hard, but it wasn’t enough.
A late Rhys Vague three-pointer on a turnover with Brisbane bringing up the ball provided a nervous finish, but the Bullets were able to hold their nerve thanks to Gliddon at the stripe.
Perth coach Trevor Gleeson said the key difference between the win in Perth and loss in Brisbane this week was defence.
“To let a team like that, that gets energy from going early, get 34 points in the first quarter – that is just getting them involved in the game,” he said.
“You’re not going to win in this league giving up 100 points … we weren’t good enough for long enough.”
The Wildcats took the early ascendency with Nick Kay picking the pocket of Jason Cadee, compounded by a Cadee foul that allowed Perth to take a 10-4 advantage.
Cadee quickly made amends, splashing two quick threes to level scores. It became an open scoring contest as Gliddon and Adam Gibson, in his 150th game for the Bullets, joined the three-point party to give the Bullets a 34-26 quarter-time lead.
The Bullets had been warned about overstepping the baseline on the inbound ball, so when Mika Vukona went over the mark early in the second quarter he was issued a technical foul.
It was a major turning point.
From there, the Wildcats pressed their defence, effected two steals, forced three turnovers and went on a 21-3 run to spectacularly take the lead.
If that silenced the Brisbane crowd, they roared back to life late in the quarter when the Bullets woke up and whacked in seven points in almost as many seconds.
Huge plays from Stephen Holt and Cadee in the dying seconds were the icing on the cake as the Bullets wrestled back the ascendency and led 57-52 at half-time.
That advantage was pushed out to nine at the final break, with TeRangi banging in two triples to continue his career-best form early in #NBL19.
The stat that probably mattered the most, though, was the fact that Cotton had been restricted to just 11 points.
It was a nightmare start to the final quarter for the Bullets, with Bairstow giving away an unsportsmanlike foul for a push on Norton. Brisbane surrendered three more fouls in quick succession, including an offensive on Te Rangi, allowing the Wildcats to claw their way back into the match at 81-77.
A three-point play from Cadee sparked the Bullets back to life and Matt Hodgson came up huge with eight quick points, three from beyond the arc, to push the lead back out to 12.
Perth are not the side to ever say die and managed to cut the margin back to just for in the final minute, but the clock beat them in their bid to snatch the win.
Both teams have a short turnaround with the Bullets taking on the Illawarra Hawks on Saturday in Wollongong. Perth hosts reigning champs Melbourne United the same day.
NBL ROUND 3
BRISBANE BULLETS 100 (Bairstow 18, Gliddon 14, Cadee 14, TeRangi 14)
PERTH WILDCATS 96 (White 19, Cotton 17, Brandt 16)