Cairns Taipans v Perth Wildcats
When: 3pm (AEDT), Sunday 5 February
Where: Cairns Convention Centre
Broadcast: NBL TV; SBS; Fox Sports; Sky Sport NZ
Absorb that pressure
The Cairns Taipans have a pressing problem.
Usually the NBL’s coolest, calmest, best organised and most methodical outfit against pressure defence, the Taipans haven’t been themselves of late.
In their past two games against the Perth Wildcats, Cairns coughed the ball up 38 times – they average just 13.1 turnovers per game for the season.
“We didn’t take very good care of the ball today and credit to them with their pressure,” coach Aaron Fearne said after the Round 16 loss in Perth.
“You know when you play them you have to be able to absorb that pressure and execute your offence under that pressure. Today we weren’t good enough but we fought hard and put ourselves in a position to win, we just didn’t execute, they did.”
While they defeated Brisbane in Round 17, the Taipans again looked disorganised against the Bullets’ disruptive defence, only finding a genuine solution in the final minutes.
“I still didn’t think we did a great job of breaking their full-court presses, we’ll have to go back and have a look at that because Illawarra and Perth will bring the same thing,” Fearne said.
Not good enough
Sure enough, the Hawks were all over Fearne’s men like the proverbial cheap suit, not only forcing 18 miscues but forcing the Taipans to play at a pace they weren’t comfortable with, then running it back down their throats en route to a crucial 17-point win.
Cairns now sit 12-13 as they welcome the Wildcats to town on Sunday, potentially needing to win their three remaining contests to reach the post-season.
According to Fearne, if the Taipans bring the same energy levels as Friday night in Wollongong, when they trailed 54-34 at the main break, their season might as well be over.
“That first half was just not good enough, and that’s the disappointing thing to me, I’m not going to sugar coat to make it sound all fluffy and great, great second half, that’s expected,” he said.
“We did some better things, that intensity, that physicality, that competitive fight, that energy, it needed to be there from the jump ball and it wasn’t.”
At the start of the season, Perth envisaged a team high on pressure defence, forcing turnovers and then using their athletes to punish mistakes in the open court.
With key injuries throughout the season that dream hadn’t become a reality, until five games ago when they turned the defensive screws on the Taipans.
— NBL (@NBL) January 16, 2017
Up until that point, Perth had been forcing 13.4 turnovers per game – around their average during coach Trevor Gleeson’s tenure – but since then that has skyrocketed to 20.2 as Damian Martin and Co have wound back the clock to the Wildcats of Rob Beveridge’s time.
“It helps when Damo’s fit,” Gleeson said after their home win over the Taipans.
“That was the first time Damo was on unlimited minutes, before he’d been restricted to 20-25, so it’s good to have him out there pestering guys and disrupting teams.”
The Wildcats own the season series against Illawarra and Melbourne, lead the Taipans 2-1 and +14 and have a 2-1 and +8 advantage over Sydney ahead of their Perth Arena clash next Friday.
Now 13-12 after their 94-63 mauling of Brisbane, the ‘Cats can all-but seal a playoff berth with a win in Cairns, where they’ve triumphed just twice in their past eight tries.
Martin will have the big job on Travis Trice, who has averaged just 7ppg against Perth and was completely outplayed by Illawarra’s guards at both ends of the floor, but remains a potential match-winner.
The Taipans will also want more out of Nate Jawai, who has had just 18 points and one assist in two match-ups with his former team, and struggled to get involved on Friday night against the Hawks.
AJ Ogilvy had the better of that battle, as did Perth’s Angus Brandt across their past two meetings, scoring a total of 29 points on 10-of-18 shooting to go with 14 rebounds and three blocks.
— NBL (@NBL) January 20, 2017
“I always love going up against Nate,” Brandt said.
“He’s a great player and a very different player to really anyone else in the league, so I really embrace that challenge.”
Perhaps the ace up coach Fearne’s sleeve is new import small forward Tony Mitchell, who excelled in the win over Brisbane by just ignoring the changing defences – and his own lack of familiarity with the Taipans’ systems – and going into attack mode.
“It probably helped him that it was just a bit of a helter-skelter game,” Fearne said.
“It was just kind of break their pressure and play, just keep moving the ball and he’s a proven scorer, he’s done that at a lot of different levels.”
— NBL (@NBL) January 29, 2017
Mitchell was at it again in Wollongong, scoring 12 points in six minutes across three-quarter-time on a series of athletic open-court drives, classy pull-ups and a no-conscience triple.
Expect Casey Prather, who has averaged 19.5ppg, 5apg and 4.5rpg against Cairns this season, to be given plenty of opportunity to attack Mitchell, who has been whistled for 13 fouls in 71 minutes.
But if the former Milwaukee Buck can keep his hands out of the cookie jar he could be the key to breaking Perth’s pressure and opening up the Taipans’ perimeter game, which is second in the league with 38 per cent shooting from the arc.
Another key for Cairns will be slowing Bryce Cotton. The former Sun, Grizzly and Jazz man has scored 47 points and dished off seven assists in 73 minutes against the Taipans, so expect defensive specialists Jarrad Weeks and Mitch McCarron to get their chances with that match-up.
But match-ups, sub-plots and strategies aside, this game is quite simply must win for the orange men, and their coach simply wants them to play like that, in contrast to Friday’s performance that left Fearne “lost for words”.
“All the Xs and Os, that means nothing if you don’t bring that locked in, do-or-die attitude and have that real fight, you’re laying it all out there, everything, and we’ve got players that did not bring that,” he said.
“It’s desperation time, you’ve got to bring it, and if you’re not we’ll find a guy that will and a group that will, we found that in that second half and extremely proud of the group that did that, just how had they played.
“I will never complain about anything with my teams if we come out and just lay it out there and give everything.”