NBL 2014/15 Grand Final Preview: Cairns Taipans vs. New Zealand Breakers
After 20 rounds of basketball and two hard fought semi finals, the grand final series is finally upon us. The top two teams throughout the season have rightly found their place in the main event by playing consistent, ruthless basketball.
With a tightly matched series predicted, an undisputed champion will be crowned. Whether it is the minor premier Cairns Taipans who take their first franchise title, or the Breakers who are looking for their fourth title in five years, we are in for a spectacular series.
Cairns Taipans (1st) Vs. New Zealand Breakers (2nd)
Game One, Friday 6th March, Cairns Convention Centre - 7:30pm local time
Game Two, Sunday 8th March, North Shore Events Centre - 3:00pm local time
Game Three (If necessary), Friday 13th March, Cairns Convention Centre - 7:30pm local time
Tale of the Tape
Odds: Taipans - $1.70, Breakers - $2.15
New Zealand Breakers
Regular Season: 19 wins, 9 losses
Playoff Series vs. Adelaide: 2 wins
Current winning streak: 2 games
Regular Season: 21 wins, 7 losses
Playoff Series vs. Perth: 2 wins
Current winning streak: 7 games
The Taipans played 14 times at the Cairns Convention Centre (CCC) during the regular season, winning 12 in front of their 5,000 fans. One of their losses came against the Breakers in Round five, where the visitors completed a dominant sunshine swing. The CCC has become a fortress for the Taipans, where home-court advantage will be a decided advantage in the series.
Game two shifts to the North Shore Events Centre (NSEC) where the Breakers have played four times this season, winning three. Their only loss came against the Taipans in Round three as Cairns would eventually go on to beat the Breakers twice on their home-court this season. With a capacity of 4,400, the NSEC and its raucous crowd will need to boost the Breakers, who have a tough task against the top side.
MVP candidate Wilbekin has had an impressive first season in the NBL. He has been the driving force behind the Taipans dominant season averaging a team high 15.4 points to go along with 4.3 assists and 3.7 rebounds per game. Numbers aside, it is Wilbekin's ability to penetrate the defense to find open lanes and shooters that makes him so valuable. His successes against the Breakers has been no secret, averaging 20 points, 3 assists and 4 rebounds in the four encounters he has had this season. The Breakers backcourt has struggled to keep up with the speedy guard, who has looked unstoppable at times:
Jackson finished second in the MVP count this season, capping off a fantastic comeback for New Zealand's favourite adopted son. Averaging 14.7 points, 6.1 assists and 5.7 rebounds, Jackson has been a nightly triple-double threat, securing a league high two this season. Jackson is a ball hawk, who averages a shade over two steals per game, though he has struggled in four games against the Taipans, averaging just 9.7 points, 6 assists and 6 rebounds, whilst allowing Wilbekin to run riot. He has looked a reformed man in the playoffs averaging 15/8/6 and 3.5 steals. Anything short of an MVP series from him and the Breakers are toast.
Cam Tragardh Vs. Tai Wesley
These two six-men have been integral parts in their teams respective successes. As we saw in the semi-finals, the deeper teams tend to win and this finals series will be no different. A spark from the bench can change the course of a game and these two have been doing just that, all season long.
Tragardh averaged 12.2 points, 4.9 rebounds and 51% shooting this season, throwing his cap in for the six-man award by putting on effective displays from the bench. His ability to score against opponents second-units at a high clip, has eased the pressure on Cairns' starters, enabling them to rest and be ready for crunch time. He shot 58% against the Wildcats in the semi-finals, making his production a priority to stop for the visitors.
Wesley has literally rounded into form this season, shedding baby weight and transforming from a middling outside shooter, to a dominant big on the block. In an eight game stretch this season, he shot an incredible 67% from the field (44/66), which was instrumental in the Breakers solidifying their second seed. In the semi-finals against Adelaide, Wesley dominated their big-men, averaging 10.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 56% from the field. His array of post-moves makes him a hand-full for defenders and his battle in particular with Tragardh will go a long way in shaping this series.
Experience Vs. Youth
The Breakers halted the hottest team in the NBL last week, destroying the Adelaide 36ers and their ten game winning streak by an average of 20 points. Their play at both ends of the court would have beaten any team in the league - they were el fuego! If their momentum continues into this series, Carins could be in trouble.
Cairns put away an injured plagued Perth in two games, yet often looked far from their best, even putting up a two-point quarter in an awful display. The scary thing is that they won despite this and clearly have room to grow.
With zero championships to their name and limited experience on the big-stage, the Taipans have the distinct disadvantage in regards to experience. The Breakers who have the core of their squad remaining from their three-peat will know exactly how to absorb the pressure that finals ball creates and will be feeling comfortable and quietly confident leading up to Friday.
Home-court advantage is a huge factor in this series and Cairns have the security of two games in their fortress, a comfort that teams play for all year to garner. Friday's game will be a must win for the visitors who will want to avoid a return trip Cairns for a tough game three. Despite this advantage, the Breakers combination of momentum and experience should be enough to overcome their travelling woes in what is shaping up to be a minute to minute thriller.
Breakers to win series 2-1