By Paulo Kennedy, Pagemasters
Tip-off: Friday, February 22, 7.30pm (local), Cairns Convention Centre
Broadcast: NBL.TV (live)
Last time they met: Townsville 111 (Crawford 30, Ervin 28, Nevill 17) d Cairns 108 (Wilson 23, Edwards 17, Gliddon 16) 2OT, Round 18, Townsville Entertainment Centre
Peter Crawford fondly remembers the Crocs’ 16-game winning streak that led all the way into the 2003 playoffs.
But it all came crashing down in the second half of their quarter-final opener against Wollongong, hammered 57-39 after the long break to come back to earth with a thud.
The Crocs had just four days to rediscover their mojo against a Hawks team Crawford said “had mind control" over them at that point and it proved a bridge too far.
This year, after winning eight-of-10 games as they charged towards an unlikely playoff berth, the Crocs have again received an enormous wake-up call after being hammered by 28 and 24 points last weekend.
“We played like we did earlier in the season,” was Crawford’s blunt assessment.
This year the Crocs’ final chance comes in the form of a Reptile Rumble in the hostile Cairns Convention Centre, where there has been more Croc skinning than winning in recent years.
“We’re going to change the way we approach the game, we’re going up a day earlier instead of the day of the game,” Crawford said.
The London Olympian has performed poorly in Cairns since his return to Townsville, but he is looking at this game as “a different situation”.
“This is basically playoffs,” he said.
“We need this game and they need it bad, it’s going to be a war.”
And while the Crocs’ lack of offence last round (114 points in two games) and in the past three years in Cairns (66.7 points a game) is a talking point, Crawford says it was defence that sparked his team’s winning run.
“We were a bit sloppy last weekend, we’ve got to get back to playing with our backs to the wall where it’s all-out effort and you don’t give up on any plays,” he said.
“We haven’t shot well in that stadium, so we’ll have to make plays if we want to make playoffs.”
The Crocs haven’t won in Cairns since November 2009, but of the seven losses since four have been by six points or less.
In Cairns the past three seasons Crawford has averaged just 7.6 points a game at a lousy 36 per cent from the field. In Reptile Rumbles in Townsville those numbers jump to 17.6 at 45 per cent.
After shooting 39 per cent from long range over their previous 10 games, the Taipans made just 7-of-43 (16 per cent) in two games last weekend.
Cairns shoot a league-low 45 per cent from two-point range, while Townsville allow a league-high 49 per cent from inside the arc.
This season’s three Reptile Rumbles have included three overtime periods and averaged 182 points, or 162 per 40 minutes, well above the NBL average of 152.
After falling to Adelaide last week from a near-unloseable position, this week’s Reptile Rumble truly is Cairns’ last roll of the playoff dice.
Their home record against the Crocs should give them confidence, but home has hardly been a fortress this season for the Taipans.
Townsville possess strength in transition and around the basket, where the Taipans struggle defensively, and will be desperate to bounce back from their disastrous double loss.
Cairns have an advantage on the boards, however, and are unlikely to repeat their woeful shooting from last week, so the Crocs will have to find an X-factor to get this one.
In Gary Ervin, Luke Nevill and a bevy of shooters they have exactly that, but given the Crocs’ woeful road record, especially in Cairns, the Taipans enter this as the slightest of favourites.
Prediction: Taipans by 2