“It always feels good to win”: 3 thoughts from Cairns Taipans' upset win against Sydney Kings

The Cairns Taipans visited Sydney on Sunday evening, focused on extending their hot streak against the league-leading Kings. The game did not disappoint. Ultimately, the Taipans gutted the dub out, winning 109-98.

Cairns' playoff push

After starting off the season in rather mediocre fashion going 2-6, the Taipans have righted the ship and come directly into playoff contention, winning five of their last six.

Today was no different - the North Queensland-based team didn’t take their foot off the accelerator throughout the whole game. The Taipans outrebounded and outshot the Kings, with better percentages too, making 12/22 from three. They also showed toughness and poise to hold back the Kings’ late push, specifically in their ability to hit difficult shots and make free throws. But, arguably the most impressive part of Cairns’ play in this game, and in their recent run, is the array of offensive weapons at their disposal.

Scott Machado is very capable of getting his own, as well as contributing in other areas. Today, Machado stuffed the stat sheet. He finished with 21 points, as well as seven rebounds, nine assists and three steals - all slightly above his season averages. D.J. Newbill was equally, if not more impressive, dropping a 30 piece, which included 4/8 threes - he is currently averaging nearly 23 points in his last five games.

Kouat Noi, Mirko Djeric and Cameron Oliver also ended the game with double-digit scoring, finishing with 22, 11 and 12 respectively.

The variety of options they have on offence will come in handy as the year progresses, especially in close games and at the business end of the season. Having multiple scorers gives you options if one or two don’t have it going, or are being locked down. Coach Kelly shared these sentiments in the post game press conference, when responding to a question about his offensive powerhouses.

“I do feel like with the guys we have that can score the basketball, right from Nate Jawai, Cam Oliver, to all the guys we described before the shooters and attackers of the rim [Machado, Newbill, Noi, Djeric]. We’re going to score points if we move the ball… and so we’re really trying to move the ball in space.”

Whilst he acknowledged the luxury of having potent scorers, he was also very candid about what the team needs to do, if they want to take it to the next level.

“It’s really the defensive end if we become consistent there I think we have a chance to beat a lot of these teams in the league, and that’s where I’ve been happy at times - getting more consistent defensively.”

Sydney Kings remain favourites

After their second loss of the season on Friday, the Kings came into this match as heavy favourites. The home side was down for most of the game, as their rally in the second half wasn’t enough to bring it close to even a single possession game.

This loss against Cairns meant their first home defeat and back-to-back losses of this year’s campaign. Whilst there is obviously some bit of concern for Will Weaver’s team, it’s still clear they’re the premier team to beat in the competition this season.

These losses could be the byproduct of a lapse in focus over the weekend. To be fair, their losses have come when their opponents have practically played their best games of the season - Cairns' 109 points on Sunday evening was a season-high for them as a team.

After the game, Coach Weaver touched on how hard it is to win games when opponents score that many points, especially efficiently and from the three. “54% from three.. damn, that’s going to win a lot of games, but there’s other parts of the game we can control more so.”

Brad Newley shared a similarly unworried response, when asked about whether the weekend was a setback. “Well, I think that’s why you get to 11-1, you’ve got that kind of buffer .Every now and then you’re going to drop a couple of games, and I think that’s the attitude we have.

“I mean, if you saw our locker room after Friday night in Perth, we could’ve been heads down and mad at each other, but we stayed with it, and today we played a really good team in Cairns. I mean, look at the way they shot the ball.”

With half the season left to go, they will still most likely proceed with home court advantage throughout the Finals series - but after this tough weekend for the Kings - Perth now only sit one win behind top spot.

MVP battle

The point guard clash in Sunday’s game wasn’t just an ordinary head to head. Casper Ware and Scott Machado are two superstars of the league, both firmly at the front of the MVP race.

Former NBA player Ware Jr was not his usual self in the first half. But as superstars do, he came alive in the fourth quarter when it mattered most, connecting on three long range field goals in a row, and followed it up with some crafty layups and slick dimes.

The visiting Machado continued his recent form. In his three previous games, the Brazilian-American born stud has scored 22, 17 and 22, all on impressive shooting figures. On top of that, he continued to find his teammates out of the pick and roll at the top of the key, or even in other offensive situations - according to NBL stats, he is the current league leader in assists at 8.3.

In a truly fitting way, it was Ware and Machado who went play for play against one another down the stretch of the game. Both of them put their respective teams on the back, creating plays for themselves and others. Machado eventually sealed the game with clutch play after clutch play, and was a huge reason Cairns came up with the win in this one.

Other thoughts

  • Kouat Noi is a dark horse Rookie of the Year contender. Obviously, LaMelo Ball, RJ Hampton aren’t too shabby, but Noi is starting to gain some consistency and steadiness around his game.

  • Shaun Bruce can flat out score the ball, he had 17 and played with great confidence.

  • Kevin Lisch returned from injury and did not quite impress. He was 0/6 from 3, but Coach Weaver remained confident in Lisch, mentioning post-game that this was out of character, and likely will not happen again.

  • Bogut was impactful as always on both ends, scoring 12 points and grabbing 12 bounds. The eye test agrees - he still looks mobile and in great shape.