Brisbane Bullets v Illawarra Hawks
When: 7.30pm (AEDT), Monday 19 December
Where: Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre
Broadcast: NBL TV; Fox Sports; Sky Sport NZ
Everyone in the NBL knows there is one thing you cannot afford to do against the Illawarra Hawks, and that is turn the ball over.
With transition weapons like Rotnei Clarke, Marvelle Harris, Mitch Norton and Tim Coenraad, and athletic bigs like AJ Ogilvy and Nick Kay, the Hawks love nothing more than attacking in the open court.
— NBL (@NBL) December 17, 2016
It’s a lesson the Brisbane Bullets re-learned the hard way in their 98-88 home defeat to Rob Beveridge’s men last round.
“Certainly 20 turnovers is a problem,” coach Andrej Lemanis said afterwards.
“It’s something that’s really crept in over the last few games. I’m not sure whether we’re starting to lose a bit of confidence, second-guessing ourselves, not executing offensively.
“Obviously that’s something we’ve got to take care of because you can’t keep shooting yourselves in the foot with 20 turnovers.”
Big time player
The biggest beneficiary was Clarke, who is almost unstoppable when allowed to use screens in transition to create space for his lightning-quick pull-up, or a hesitation dribble and drive to the bucket.
“He’s a big time player for us,” Beveridge said.
“We all started slow in the season and Rotnei’s found his groove now. He’s coming in off the bench but still playing lots of minutes and the great thing is he’s so unselfish, he’s having great defenders chase him and he’s absorbing that pressure and giving it up for others as well.
“His last six or seven games in particular have been outstanding.”
Clarke burned the Bullets for 24 points on 9-of-12 shooting in less than 27 minutes, while dishing off three assists without a single turnover.
— NBL (@NBL) December 10, 2016
The 2014 MVP has now scored 138 points in his past 154 minutes, and while his deadly outside shot gets the headlines, he has shot a Jerome Randlesque 32-of-53 from two-point range in that stretch.
The biggest change for the Hawks, who have won six of their past nine games, is they are playing fast but with purpose, and that results in good looks for their array of scorers.
“We’re taking care of the ball, we’ve got a lot of counters now, teams can pressure us and we’re doing a really good job,” Beveridge said.
“It’s taken a while to get there.”
Round and round
The Hawks were getting there against Cairns on Saturday too, leading by 11 points early in the third quarter, shooting the ball at 57 per cent as their slick execution cut the Taipans apart.
But a funny thing happened. Cody Ellis missed a lay-up, so did Clarke and Harris, Ellis and Rhys Martin clanged wide-open threes and suddenly it was Cairns running off misses and nailing jumpers in rhythm. At the other end the Hawks became a hesitant hulk of their former selves.
“There were times when we were moving the ball round and round and it looked like no one would be the person to take the shot in that late third quarter,” captain Oscar Forman said.
“We pass it around and we don’t play the tempo we want to play.”
Illawarra blinked, and by the time they opened their eyes a double-figure lead had become a nine-point deficit at the final break, the Taipans then cruising to what may well be a season series clinching victory.
Stuck in the half-court, the Hawks shot 9-of-32 from the field in the final 17 minutes and coughed the ball up eight times.
“In the first half the tempo really suited us and in the second half it didn’t, we knew that going in,” Forman said.
“Our point was really to try and stick to our tempo, and whoever won the battle of the tempo was going to win the game.”
More pride and urgency
It will be no different on Monday night in Brisbane when the Hawks and Bullets renew acquaintances, with the two teams at polar ends of the pace spectrum.
Going into Saturday’s win over Melbourne, the Bullets were just 2-6 against the NBL’s fastest four sides, but they played with outstanding discipline at the defensive end to control the tempo for most of the night and shut down the red-hot Casper Ware.
— NBL (@NBL) December 17, 2016
“As a unit I thought there was some good discussion that was had (during the week), and you could feel that there was a collective spirit around that we need to be better,” Lemanis said.
“We spoke about defence. We just need to have a bit more pride and urgency on defence and have each other’s backs on defence as well, and for me that was the pleasing thing tonight.”
Torrey Craig and Reuben Te Rangi stepped up and hounded Ware with their length and strength, while the Bullets’ early-season rebounding prowess returned, grabbing 74 per cent of the boards at the defensive end.
Of course, that defence came on the back of some much improved offence, guards Shaun Bruce, Adam Gibson and Jermaine Beal playing with control to ensure United had to defend for extended periods against the Bullets’ strong frontcourt.
Keeping it simple
Cam Bairstow and milestone man Anthony Petrie combined for 31 points as their team shot a remarkable 66 per cent from inside the arc and racked up 52 points in the paint.
“During the week we simplified things a little bit, just narrowed our menu, and I thought we did a good job offensively of grinding out plays, finding ways that they were defending it and going ahead and exploiting that, and a great job of playing through our posts,” Lemanis said.
“Good things happen for us when we play through our posts, but when the cutting action of it is real.”
Bairstow, Petrie, Daniel Kickert and Tom Jervis against Ogilvy, Kay, Ellis and Michael Holyfield will be a pivotal battle on Monday, with so much of tempo reliant on controlling the glass.
— NBL (@NBL) December 10, 2016
Expect Craig and Te Rangi to get first crack at Clarke when he emerges from the bench to wreak havoc, while Martin and Kevin White will likely keep Beal company for most of the night.
Harris and Coenraad will have the tough ask of keeping the energetic Craig off the perimeter and off the glass, while perhaps the biggest challenge for Brisbane will be the Hawks’ zones, which forced them to the arc late in their Round 10 loss.
Monday’s winner moves into second place, and if that’s the Hawks they go another step closer to claiming this season series. While Brisbane are a formidable opponent, Forman believes the team the Hawks have to beat is themselves.
“As Bevo says to us, we can be so damn good when we want to be, it’s when we get complacent and we have those lapses that we really show our underbelly,” he said.
“The first half (against Cairns) everything we did in training went to plan, the second half we decided to freelance and go off it and we’re not a good enough team to go off our plan.”