The Cairns Taipans have answered every challenge so far in a remarkable #NBL20 campaign and they responded to the call on Sunday at Cairns Convention Centre to fix up what went wrong Friday and beat the Perth Wildcats 85-74 in Game 2 of the semi-final series.
MVP Bryce Cotton was simply unstoppable on Friday night despite the best defender in the league DJ Newbill making him work hard for everything he earned. Cotton still delivered 42 points including 10/19 shooting from three and the Snakes just couldn’t let him off the chain again.
And he didn’t on Sunday in Game 2. With Newbill leading the way defensively with the team’s defence focused on forcing the ball away from him, Cotton went scoreless for the first 23 minutes of the game, took just two shots in the first half and finished with only 11 points on 5/12.
Then what also killed Cairns on Friday at RAC Arena was coughing up 17 turnovers to Perth’s three. Well on Sunday, they already forced the ‘Cats into four turnovers by quarter-time and 14 by the end of the game opposed to their 12.
Then the Snakes continued to do what they already did well. They again won the rebounding battle and once more shot the ball better with 47 per cent from the field even if only hitting 6/21 from deep. Perth, meanwhile, went just 38 per cent from the floor and 10/34 from beyond the arc.
On the back of 19 and 18 in Game 1, Cam Oliver was brilliant for Cairns with 22 points and 19 rebounds while Newbill produced 16 points, four rebounds, three assists and two steals on top of his defence.
Scott Machado had just the one turnover on his way to 13 points, four rebounds and four assists with Nate Jawai producing 12 points and Majok Deng 11. Cairns’ big of Oliver and Jawai combining for 34 points and 21 rebounds was significant in the result.
The Taipans won their first playoff game since Game 2 of the semi finals also against Perth in 2015, and afterwards coach Mike Kelly lauded his group’s performance but acknowledged the job’s not done.
“I thought the guys came in with great energy and there was just a good feel to how we went about our business body and energy-wise, and it carried through the game,” Kelly said.
“I thought defensively especially that the first half was phenomenal by the guys. It was a very good game by the guys despite a couple of lulls. They came and played together really hard.
“I think both teams will come out on Thursday fighting, scratching and clawing to get that last one. It will be a real dog fight over there and we’re up for it.”
Clint Steindl did what he could to give Perth a sniff with 18 points including hitting 4/8 from deep. The rest of the team hit 6/26 from three including Cotton going 1/6 and Mitch Norton and Damian Martin a combined 0/7.
Terrico White found some better form with 13 points while Nick Kay fought hard for 10 points and 10 rebounds despite 3/12 shooting. Miles Plumlee had no impact after the opening minutes finishing with eight points and six boards. Jesse Wagstaff had another seven points and four rebounds.
Wildcats coach Trevor Gleeson was happy with his team in the second half but knew playing catching up was always going to be tough.
“I thought we played outstanding in the second half, that was Wildcats basketball but it got away from us at the end of the first quarter and even in the second didn’t go that well at the start,” Gleeson said.
“I thought the second half was outstanding, we outscored them for the last three quarters but obviously the first quarter hurt us.
“They were more aggressive to start the game. They had a bit of an edge on them and we were pretty soft with how we played out on the court. It was only in the second half that we played aggressive Wildcats basketball.”
The first quarter was all about the two big men of each club. Miles Plumlee had the first impact over the opening three minutes with three big buckets and even diving on the floor to grab a loose ball and set up another score.
It looked like he was in for a big night. But that was as good as it got for him but Cam Oliver was just warming up for Cairns. He would score the next 11 points of the game to set up a 16-0 run and Cairns went from being down six to leading 30-16 by quarter-time.
They’d also already forced the Wildcats into four turnovers while having just two themselves in a big turnaround from Game 1.
Perth veterans Damian Martin and Jesse Wagstaff tried to stem the tide early in the second period combining for their teams first eight points, but Cairns’ lead kept growing and was as much as 18 when Jarrod Kenny drained a three.
The Snakes still led 47-31 at the half with Oliver already having a double-double of 14 and 11 while Bryce Cotton was scoreless on 0/2.
The Taipans had no let up to start the second half either with the lead getting back out to 20 after just four minutes, but Cotton did eventually score 3:30 into the half. He would add seven points for the term, Clint Steindl hit eight and Perth had a sniff down just 10 at three quarter-time.
It was then a seven-point game when Nick Kay hit a three with seven minutes to go. While Cairns responded, the ‘Cats were again back within seven after threes to Terrico White and Steindl with four minutes left.
But the Snakes wouldn’t open the door any further. Machado came up big with a jumper and then Newbill slammed the door shut for good with a huge three as the Snakes regained a 17-point edge and would win by 11.
Game 3 is on Thursday night at RAC Arena with a spot in the Grand Final on the line.
NBL SEMI-FINAL GAME 2
CAIRNS TAIPANS 85 (Oliver 22, Newbill 16, Machado 13)
PERTH WILDCATS 74 (Steindl 18, White 13, Cotton 11)
Best-of-three series is tied at 1-1