Tip-off: Saturday, December 15, 7:30pm (local), Adelaide Arena
Broadcast: NBL.TV (live)
Last time they met: Townsville 75 (Ervin 22, M Cedar 11, Norton 10) d Adelaide 73 (Gibson 17, Cadee 13, Weigh 10), Round 9, Townsville Entertainment Centre
Something incredible happened last week in Townsville’s thrilling one-point win over Melbourne – rebounding machine Jacob Holmes pulled in only three boards.
Just twice last season did he pull in so few and, given Holmes’ relentless approach, Adelaide big man and former teammate Daniel Johnson isn't expecting it to happen again anytime soon.
“You have to find him to box him out as soon as you think a shot is going to go up,” Johnson said.
“He’s very good at reading the ball and he gets to the spot where it ends up going … he is such a strong guy that once he gets position you just can’t move him.”
Holmes has used his speed and anticipation to dominate the rebounding count against his old team since moving to Townsville, grabbing a season-high 16 boards when the Crocs beat Adelaide two weeks ago.
He was also part of an effective defensive effort on All-Star starter Johnson, who had his way with smaller power forwards until that point.
The 212cm Johnson believes the addition of giant centre Luke Nevill to the Crocs’ line-up makes the sturdy Holmes an even more difficult defensive opponent.
“It’s great having a seven-footer alongside you, I've found that this year with Luke Schenscher,” he said.
“It means there’s a bit more protection at the rim, you can play your own defence harder.”
Johnson also believes Nevill’s presence will free up Holmes to “roam around and find his open shots”, but his main aim is matching his old training partner’s intensity at the glass.
“You have to be hungry for it, that’s the only way to try and match him,” he said.
These teams’ past seven encounters have been won by the side with more rebounds.
Since signing with Townsville, Holmes is averaging 11.5 rebounds a game against Adelaide.
Apart from his Round 9 match-up with Holmes, Johnson has averaged 17.8 points a game against starting power forwards shorter than 205cm. Against the bigger four-men he has averaged 13.8.
After leading the league at 45 per cent from long range after Round 5, the 36ers have shot at just 28 per cent since.
Townsville head into this game with genuine momentum after consecutive victories with Nevill on the team.
But winning form hasn’t always been a blessing this season, especially when facing a team as desperate as Adelaide after three straight losses.
That slide was started by their loss to the Crocs, where the 36ers couldn’t make key plays down the stretch to make up for a horror first quarter coming off the bye.
The 36ers simply need to make better decisions at key moments, with their final-quarter issues continuing against Sydney and Perth.
They also must force other teams to non-preferred shooters down the stretch, even if that risks giving up easier looks.
With their season on the line, all-around defensive intensity is needed to support Adam Gibson’s relentless efforts and not allow Townsville to execute high-lows as effectively as they did against Melbourne.
That and some more characteristic three-point shooting will go a long way towards seeing off the Crocs, although history tells us the rebounding battle will be the decider in this one.
With a late injury cloud hanging over Gibson this game is well and truly in the balance.
Prediction: 36ers by 5
Tip-off: Saturday, December 15, 7:30pm (local), Adelaide Arena
The Townsville Crocodiles' mid-season rejuvenation continued with a nail-biting 80-75 victory over the Adelaide 36ers at Adelaide Arena on Saturday.
With a series of clutch plays, notably by Peter Crawford and ex-Sixer Jacob Holmes, the Crocs earned their third straight victory and consigned the besieged 36ers to their fourth successive loss.
"We shot really poorly in the first half," Adelaide coach Marty Clarke said.
"The work that's done early comes back to help you or hurt you later in the game."
Holmes slotted a pair of free throws with 10 seconds remaining after pulling down a monster offensive rebound to give his side a 78-75 lead.
Then Crawford, who scored 13 of his 15 points in the final stanza including three triples, conjured a steal off Daniel Johnson to seal the deal.
Big men Luke Schenscher (18 points) and Daniel Johnson (16) were prolific for Adelaide, which looks set to be without star wingman Mitch Creek (11 points) for the rest of the season.
"It's a ruptured Achilles," Clarke confirmed.
"Unless the MRI shows it different, that's it for the season. It's always sad to see someone get hurt, especially when they're right at the start of their career. He's got a lot of basketball in front of him."
Gary Ervin (21 points at 67 per cent) was at his explosive best early, giving Adam Gibson fits en route to 15 first-quarter points at 100 per cent.
The 2011 NBL MVP helped the Crocs to a commanding 23-8 lead and finished a brilliant 10 minutes with a quarter-time buzzer-beating trey.
Adelaide ate into the deficit in the second term and captured their first lead mid-quarter.
There would be four lead changes for the term before Mitch Norton replicated Ervin's earlier effort by nailing a buzzer-beating triple to make it 47-40 at half-time.
Ervin helped the visitors to a 10-point lead three minutes into the third but the momentum swung again with Schenscher owning the paint.
Creek's buzzer-beating three – incredibly the third instance in as many quarters – gave Adelaide a 58-57 three quarter-time lead.
With 6min 6sec remaining, Creek went to the floor in clear pain and Townsville took full advantage.
Crawford, without a field goal to three-quarter-time, suddenly caught fire and gave the Crocs the lead with 104 seconds remaining before banging a monster three moments later to silence the 4493-strong home crowd.
Holmes' huge offensive board and two free throws gave him a victory against his old team and kept the Crocs' play-off hopes alive.
"Jacob had the biggest rebound of the game,? said Townsville coach Paul Woolpert, who confirmed Ervin will likely miss next weekend's All Star game after slipping and jarring his knee at half-time.
"It was poetic justice that he got that rebound and knocked down the game-winning free throws.
"We feel better about ourselves. The most encouraging thing is the fact all three wins have been very close and we've made a number of plays down the stretch that secured those wins."
Townsville Crocodiles 80 (Ervin 21, Crawford 15, Norton 11)
Adelaide 36ers 75 (Schenscher 18, Johnson 16, Creek 11)
Crowd: 4493 at Adelaide Arena