By Steve Barrett, Pagemasters
The Cairns Taipans kept their playoff hopes alive, clinging on for a nail-biting 70-69 win over the Adelaide 36ers at Adelaide Arena on Saturday.
The Taipans led at every change and held sway for much of the night before an exciting fourth-quarter comeback from the Sixers just fell short.
With scores tied at 69-all, Taipans import Jamar Wilson hit one-of-two free throws to give Cairns the lead, which they would hang on to after Stephen Weigh failed to get off a clear shot in the final second.
"It keeps us alive," said elated Cairns coach Aaron Fearne.
"As I said to the guys after the game we've showed some real toughness the last 10-12 games ... I could have shot myself (if we lost). We got out of jail and they couldn't get a good shot off. Fittingly we won the game playing good D."
After a quiet start, Wilson scored 13 points, as did fellow American Shane Edwards, while Daniel Johnson put in a lion-hearted performance, overcoming a scoreless first term to finish with 21 points and 13 rebounds.
Anthony Petrie contributed 15 and eight for the 36ers who fought back bravely in their final home game of the season after they were downright ugly in the opening term - shooting 3-of-19 from the floor, 1-of-9 from three-point territory along with zero assists and four turnovers.
Adam Gibson's shot-clock beating triple with 46 seconds left helped Adelaide save face in the first term, the home side stuck on four points at that stage.
The Taipans were not much better during what was a scrappy quarter, Edwards' athletic jam one of the few highlights as Cairns, opening with a 6-0 start, led 14-8 at quarter-time.
Adelaide fought back in the second term as the contest heated up, briefly tying the ball-game at 24-apiece largely through the exploits of Johnson (9 points, 7 boards for the term).
Cairns recaptured the momentum through high-flying Edwards whose showcased his skills in the paint to guide the visitors to a 34-31 half-time edge as the the tempo and standard continued to lift.
All-Star guard Jamar Wilson was almost unsighted in the first half but he triggered a Cairns surge early in the third with his slick ball-handling.
Johnson sparked a 12-3 Adelaide retort, the hosts capturing their first lead of the night when Petrie finished his own good work after conjuring a steal and dazzling with a behind-the-back dribble streaming forward in transition.
Three more lead changes followed before Cairns finished the stanza strongly, going 8-0 in the final two minutes to lead 58-51 at three-quarter-time.
The Sixers clawed their way back behind some spirited fourth-quarter play from unsung Tom Daly. The pint-sized point guard leapt for a massive offensive rebound, converted a sweet three-point play and pinched an important steal before a massive trey from Stephen Weigh with 2min 43sec remaining tied the game at 69-69.
The much-suffering home fans were in full voice when a driving Wilson was fouled by Johnson with 16.8 seconds on the clock.
The American broke the deadlock when he slotted the first but his second drew iron and Johnson snared the rebound.
The 36ers had a chance to steal victory but when an under-pressure Adam Gibson couldn't find any offensive motion, Weigh's last-ditch, off-balance long-range shot never getting close as the Taipans held on.
Adelaide coach Marty Clarke insisted Weigh's shot was what the side wanted but was left bemused at the non-call on Aaron Grabau.
"Side ball-screen, pin-down for the catch-and-shoot," Clarke said of the set play.
"We executed what we wanted to do and we got the ball where we wanted to get to and I thought we had a good look at what should have been a shot or a chance to get a foul.
"I'd like to have a look at it and see how great the defence was. It might have been a foul."
Cairns Taipans 70 (Edwards 13, Wilson 13, Grabau 12)
Adelaide 36ers 69 (Johnson 21, Petrie 15, Weigh 11)
Crowd: 5306 at Adelaide Arena