After each round of the NBL season, I’ll be taking a look at three ‘winners’ and three ‘losers’ from the events of the preceding week. Anyone, or anything, is eligible…
The hottest backcourt in the NBL
Sunday’s New Year’s Day clash between Melbourne and Adelaide saw the official passing of the hottest-backcourt-in-the-league torch.
Over an eight-game winning streak, Jerome Randle and Nathan Sobey had been tearing up the NBL. Their run came to a screeching halt in the face of the rolling inferno that is Casper Ware and Chris Goulding.
The United guard duo backed up their combined 40 points against the Taipans on Thursday night with 50 against the 36ers.
Here’s a look at both Ware and Goulding’s output in Melbourne’s 7-2 run since they joined forces in Round 7:
The spotlight usually finds Goulding pretty easily, but strangely enough, you could argue his recent form has been under-appreciated. While Ware’s lightning penetration and volume scoring has grabbed the headlines, Goulding’s shooting efficiency has been off the charts, to the point where he now finds himself alongside Jerome Randle and Daniel Kickert as the only players in the league to average 20+ minutes per game, with a usage rate above 20% and a true shooting percentage above 60%, per RealGM.
Right now, Casper and Bubbles are the best guard combo in the NBL. The rest of the league needs to find a way to slow them down, and soon.
The Bullets, down but not out
Poor defence and turnovers. It’s been a familiar refrain for the Bullets during their recent slump.
On the back of a 38-point drubbing in Melbourne and the loss of Anthony Petrie to a season-ending injury, there was little reason for Brisbane fans to hope the New Year’s Eve Queensland Derby would be the scene of a Bullets revival.
When they started the game with two turnovers and allowed two easy Taipans’ buckets at the rim, they didn’t look like a team ready to turn over a new leaf. But, yet again, this NBL season proved its ability to surprise.
Brisbane quickly turned around their sloppy start to produce one of their more offensively polished, and defensively ferocious performances of the season. They gave up just nine turnovers for the rest of the night, but it was their defensive intensity that won them the game.
They consistently jumped passing lanes and pressured the Taipans out of their sets. Here, Adam Gibson reads the dribble hand off from Nate Jawai and jumps it for the steal. Note the hustle from Tom Jervis to beat Alex Loughton back to mop up the fast break.
In this next set, the Taipans try to force Gibson to switch onto Loughton, while Travis Trice pops out on the weak side to present another option.
Gibbo slips around Loughton’s screen and pressures Stevie Weigh with the ball, while Torrey Craig denies the pass to Trice. Weigh settles for dumping it to a posting-up Loughton, who is forced all the way out to the three-point line by some strong work from Daniel Kickert.
While the Bullets didn’t break the game open until the fourth quarter, that kind of defensive effort was there all night. As Andrej Lemanis said, “The last quarter happens as an accumulation of the effort and energy that’s put in over the course of the game.”
“It’s not fun, it’s not glamourous, it’s not what the crowd sees and rewards you for and cheers for, but it’s what you need to do to win basketball games.”
The Wildcats, who just know how to win when it matters
Perth’s championship pedigree was on display for all to see on New Year’s Eve in their gutsy win over the Hawks in Wollongong. Even when Illawarra skipped out to a 7-point lead in the final term (thanks to yet another Oscar Forman triple), it just felt like Perth were always going to will themselves over the line.
With that win, instead of finding themselves dead last, the Wildcats enter the new year in the middle of the pack, with a gun import en route and their inspirational captain’s return on the horizon. The streak ain’t over just yet.
Q3, 4:29 remaining
This is the moment in which Round 13 went off the rails for the Cairns Taipans.
The Taipans were all over United at this stage of the game. If Trice makes that layup, the lead balloons to 16, the roof blows off the Cairns Convention Centre, and Dean Demopoulos is wildly waving his arms at the score bench for a momentum-arresting timeout.
Instead, Chris Goulding hits Casper Ware for a transition triple and the five-point swing brings the margin back to 11. United closes the quarter on a 16-4 run and trail by just two going into the final period.
One can’t help but wonder, if Trice makes that layup, do the Taipans steamroll United and take that momentum into a NYE clash with the Bullets? Instead of last with a 7-10 record, do they find themselves at 9-8 and in the top four after Round 13?
Penney and Henare, on two different wavelengths
Speaking of pivotal moments, this one was pretty important in the Breakers’ loss to Sydney on Friday night.
Trailing by one, with enough time remaining for the Breakers to get the ball back for a potential game-winning possession, Kirk Penney committed his fifth foul, sending Kevin Lisch to the free throw line and Penney to the bench. He made a huge mistake.
Either Penney didn’t know how much time was left, or, more likely, he thought a wildly gesticulating Paul Henare was instructing him to foul. Although, if he knew how much time was left, he surely wouldn’t have reached that conclusion. Whatever the case, it was a disastrous brain fade from a veteran player.
At 97.53%, it’s the worst in the league. But they’re still on top of the ladder. So, in a way, I guess the other seven teams are the losers.