Written for nbl.com.au by Liam Santamaria
The Snakes finished the season with some bite, the Wildcats claimed top spot and Lamarvellous fired Brisbane into the playoffs.
Here, for the final time this season, is your weekly dose of studs and duds.
After a rough ol’ season the Taipans finished NBL19 with a bang, upsetting Melbourne to essentially deny the defending champs a first-place finish.
The Snakes narrowly lost to Sydney on Saturday but their efforts against United were enough to earn an end-of season shout-out in the studs.
After battling through a franchise record 14-game losing streak, it was great to see the Taipans grab a few wins late in the season, including two straight across the final rounds.
It must be said: in his first year as an NBL head coach, one thing Mike Kelly did really well this season was keep that group together.
I mean, most squads would’ve split apart amidst that much losing but the Taipans went the other way, forming a brotherhood that helped them finish the season on a high.
“It’s fantastic payoff for the way these guys have continued to work and come together, despite some results that haven’t gone our way,” Kelly reflected after the Melbourne win.
“We’ve been banging our heads against the wall for quite a while against a lot of these great teams and it’s great to go back-to-back and get two wins in a row.
“It’s just a testament to these guys continuing to fight.”
Shawn Long (New Zealand Breakers)
New Zealand’s club MVP served up two more big performances to close out his memorable season, as the Breakers split their Round 18 double to finish in sixth spot.
Long put up 28 and 8 against lllawarra and then backed that up with 23 and 10 with 3 blocks as the Kiwis pushed Brisbane to the brink.
Across his final 13 games, Mr Double Double averaged a monstrous 26 points and 10 boards per game while shooting 60 percent from the field and 40 percent from long range. That’s with a made three, a dime, a block and a steal per game as well.
The key was, of course, staying out of foul trouble and with the Breakers shifting their defensive schemes to protect him, the big fella didn’t foul out of a single game throughout that stretch.
Judging by his Insta stories, though, Long clearly wasn’t happy to have missed out on a place in the All-NBL First Team. Here’s hoping we see him back in the league at some point nonetheless.
In the end, the Bullets got there.
It was a journey, and at times it looked like they were going to let their opportunity slip, but they got there.
And in a season as competitive as this one, Andrej Lemanis and his men should be commended for staying the course and, eventually, making enough plays to gain a place in the postseason.
With Adelaide going down in Perth, the Bullets were gifted a win-and-you’re-in situation against the Breakers and, thanks to some big-time performances from a few of their guys, they got the job done.
Jason Cadee (18 points, 6 assists) stepped up in the absence of Cam Gliddon (back), Mika Vukona (14 points, 7 rebounds) was his usual inspirational self and Lamar Patterson (23 points) was absolutely ginormous down the stretch.
“The whole regular season is about just getting through and seeing who qualifies for the playoffs,” Lemanis commented postgame.
“Once you’ve done that it goes back to 0-0 and it’s there to be won by somebody. We’ve got every opportunity now to come out, put the work in, get after it and give ourselves the best opportunity for success.”
Chris Goulding (Melbourne United)
It was a roller-coaster final round for the defending champs but when the chips were down the face of their franchise stepped up.
Goulding scored a game-high 22 points on Thursday night and his clutch three late in regulation helped send Sunday’s clash with Perth to overtime.
Then, in the extra period, Goulding continued to deliver as he fired United to a top-two finish.
“It was great. He’s one of our leaders and he stepped up,” teammate DJ Kennedy commented postgame.
“We knew if we kept getting Chris open shots he was going to eventually make ‘em and we made them pay for it late.”
Kennedy was also heavily influential on Sunday as he posted a massive line of 21 points, 15 rebounds and 6 assists.
The versatile import is entering the postseason in really impressive form, having averaged 15 points, 10 boards and 4.7 assists per night across United’s final 8 games.
The Wildcats went down to Melbourne but they got the job done against Adelaide, securing a regular season title and home court advantage throughout the playoffs.
It’s a tremendous achievement and one that sets the ‘Cats up as the team to beat in the postseason – a position that franchise is very, very familiar with.
“To be able to finish as minor premiers in what I consider the highest quality the league has been – at least in my twelve years in the league – it’s something we’re proud of.” Damian Martin said.
“But the reality is no-one remembers who the minor premiers were, they remember who won the championship.
“It’s obviously great to lock in top spot, home court advantage and everything that comes with it but in saying that, the best part of the season is about to begin and we’ve put ourselves in a good position to do well.”
Individual shout-outs are also due here to Perth’s All-NBL First Team duo of Bryce Cotton and Nick Kay.
Cotton (29 points) was all kinds of clutch against the 36ers and Kay capped off a sensational regular season with two stat-sheet stuffing performances, putting 14 and 11 on Adelaide and then 20 and 8 with 3 steals on United.
The Hawks were a dangerous team throughout NBL19 but after losing each of their final three games – including a 36-point loss to the Breakers in Round 18 – they ended up finishing second-last with a 12-16 record.
The issue for the Hawks this season was the massive difference between their best and their worst.
Rob Beveridge’s men notched up a win over every single team at some point throughout NBL19 but, on the flip side, they also dropped 10 games by 14 or more points.
That floor was well and truly on display in their final game, where the Hawks allowed the Breakers to run up a record-breaking 130 points.
“The way we finished tonight was pretty disappointing,” Todd Blanchfield reflected.
“We had our ups and downs during the year and that was our biggest fault, our inconsistency… But I’ve had a lot of fun with the guys. We’ve had a really good group and if we’d strung a few more games together it might’ve been a little different for us.”
The big question now, of course, is who will coach the team moving forward? Watch this space.
Melbourne did enough in Round 18 to lock up a top-two finish but they let a golden opportunity slip when they went down to Cairns at home.
A win over the wooden-spooners would’ve put United in poll position to claim a second consecutive regular season title but they just weren’t able to get the job done, as Casper Ware missed a potential game-winner in the game’s final moments.
“Disappointing is the word,” Goulding commented postgame.
“We have been presented with some amazing opportunities as a group and we’ve failed to take them at the first time they have been handed to us… at some stage you have got to take opportunities when they present themselves as they don’t hang around in this league for long.”
Melbourne did bounce back late against Perth, securing home-court advantage for the semi-finals, but man, that was a costly stumble against the Snakes.
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