NBL 2014/15 Round 1: Cairns throttle listless Melbourne

#476765967 / gettyimages.com

Cairns has continued their strong start to the season with an 89-61 thumping of championship aspirants Melbourne United.

In front of over 5,000 fans at Hisense Arena, the Taipans dismantled the newly revamped United, led by a strong performance from import Scott Wilbekin. Following a highly competitive opening quarter, Cairns was able to open up an unassailable buffer through a combination of precision offense and equally inefficient offense from Melbourne.

Following a 30-16 second quarter where Cairns simply took control of the game in every facet, Melbourne were never able to recover and mount any sort of comeback. In fact, after the main break Melbourne’s offense proved to be even more futile, scoring only 11 points. They managed to steady the ship in the last quarter, preventing a greater blowout, however, the damage had already been done.

Cairns led in almost every key statistical indicator, perhaps, most stark was the differential in points in the paint. With Cairns scoring 32 points in the paint, and Melbourne only able to muster a mere 14.

Whilst the stout defense provided by Cairns was a highlight, Melbourne was their own worst enemy, as evidenced by shooting 8-34 from three-point range. Moreover, their assist/turnover ratio of 16-15 is further evidence of a disjointed offense lacking in chemistry. Melbourne indeed struggled mightily but it would be remiss of me to disregard the quality performance put forth by Cairns.

Many pundits believed Cairns would be a fringe playoff side, and although it is early in the season, their performance through the first two games suggest this side has been heavily underrated.

The game can be analysed in the dichotomy that existed in the performances of each team’s respective star import. Scottie Wilbekin was simply unstoppable, going off for 27 points and 6 assists on an ultra-efficient 10-16 shooting, including 3-6 from deep. Conversely, United’s Jordan McRae showed he has much to learn from his NBL debut, scoring 17 points but needing 17 shots to do so.

While the play of both imports was a significant factor in the final result, it was the totality of Cairns’ performance and the failure of Melbourne to score efficiently that proved most decisive.

For Cairns, Wilbekin was well supported by veteran Alex Loughton who also continued his strong play from Round 1 with 17 points on a ridiculously efficient 6-7 from the field and 3-4 from deep. NBL mainstay Matthew Burston provided a strong presence inside the paint with 12 points and 7 rebounds.

Mark Worthington played a lone hand for Melbourne, as the Boomers veteran netted a double double with 15 points and 11 rebounds. Unfortunately, Worthington and arguably Lucas Walker (10 points, 6 rebounds) were the only United players to show up. Last season’s Most Improved player, Nate Tomlinson missed all five of his shots from the field, and racked up five turnovers, struggling to control the offense. Melbourne would have also been expecting far more from the returning David Barlow as he could only muster 2 points (1-6 shooting) in a display that was representative of the team's performance as a whole.

It’s not all doom and gloom for Melbourne, it is only the first game of the season and head coach Chris Anstey is having to implement essentially a completely new roster to his offensive and defensive systems. They should improve considerably from this lacklustre performance that should prove an early wake-up call.

For Cairns, they will be thrilled with their 2-0 start to the season and their aspirations may have already shifted from making the playoffs to winning the big one.

Ironically, the teams will do it all again next week as Cairns hosts Melbourne in an immediate rematch on Friday night.

Cairns Taipans (Wilbekin 27, Loughton 17, Burston 12)

Melbourne United (McRae 17, Worthington 15, Walker 10)

@ Hisense Arena