NBL Winners and Losers: Round 15
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 finals, arriving ahead of schedule
You could feel it in every Round 15 game. From the refusal of Cairns and New Zealand to lie down, to Adelaide's ruthlessness in the face of potential threats to their current hegemony. It's like the players and coaches of every team had a collective lightbulb moment, realising the season has reached a tipping point.
The parity in NBL 2016/17 has made every round compelling, but the tension clearly ramped up a notch over the weekend.
Dave Barlow nailed it, after Melbourne held off a brave and desperate Taipans unit.
"It feels like the playoffs have started, to be honest. Every game is huge, we all know that."
The New KD on the Block
One man owned Round 15, and his name is Kevin Dillard.
He ushered in the welcome return of the behind-the-back pass, with highlight after highlight in the Breakers' win over the Kings on Friday night - none better than this one.
In the process, he posted an impressive stat line of 19 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists and 5 steals to become the latest member of the 4 x 5 Club. For those who missed it, check out Round 12's Winners and Losers to see who he joins.
Then, in Brisbane on Sunday, he put up 28/5/4/4 to almost do it again, before completely disrespecting Brisbane's sweet heritage jerseys in the nastiest way imaginable.
Adelaide, proving their championship mettle
They were meant to face arguably their two biggest threats in Round 15. Unfortunately, injuries to Melbourne deprived us of the battle we were hoping for on Thursday night. Nonetheless, the 36ers' win over the Wildcats at Perth Arena on Saturday night was as impressive as any of their 15 to date in season 2016/17.
Perth came out swinging with a 14-5 start, and led 35-19 early in the second quarter. But Adelaide refused to roll over, led by one of the more inspirational performances of the season from their captain, Mitch Creek. He willed his team back into the contest, dominating the glass and relentlessly attacking Perth's transition defence. He finished with 16 points on 6-10 shooting, 12 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals and a team-best plus-20 in almost 35 minutes on the floor.
Brisbane, first team out
The Bullets were gutsy in their two Round 15 losses, but a calf injury to point guard Adam Gibson in Wollongong was surely the nail in the coffin of their season. Embed from Getty Images
Gibson was having an underrated season, eighth in the NBL in true shooting percentage (61.2%) having rediscovered lights-out touch from the perimeter (41.2%, second only to his 2006/07 season at 42.4%) coupled with a stunning, career-best 94.3 FT% (3rd in the NBL).
While mathematical hope exists, without Gibbo and with 13 losses already on the board, it would take a miracle for the Bullets to bounce back into the top four.
The Wildcats, who just need buckets
A week ago, it looked like the defending champs were poised to make their move. But they were outplayed on their own floor by the rampaging 36ers, and couldn't steal another win from the Taipans despite the best efforts of Damian Martin and his defensive wizardry. Embed from Getty Images
It's pretty simple for Perth. They're the best defensive team in the league, but the worst offensive team. They need to be better at putting the ball in the hoop.
It's a familiar refrain, but in Round 15, they went 9-37 (24.3%) from the perimeter across two games, down even on their league-worst 31.2% on the season. Coach Trevor Gleeson said he thought they were getting good looks against the Taipans, but it seems open shots might not necessarily be good ones for the Wildcats this season.
Apart from Matty Knight's flukey 1-2 (50%) from deep, Dexter Kernich-Drew is the only (current) Wildcat over 33% at a very healthy 42.9%. Perhaps he needs to see a little more action in the run home to juice the Wildcats' offence.
Melbourne's reliance on Goulding
Never has Goulding's impact on Melbourne been more obvious than in the third quarter of their win over the Taipans on Saturday night. They were looking comfortable early in the third quarter when he drained a triple to extend their lead to 15. Unfortunately, he landed awkwardly after the shot and had to exit the game for treatment.
2 minutes and 34 seconds later, the lead was just two points.
Thankfully for Melbourne, he returned to restore order. But their offensive execution disappears when he's not on the court, and they need to find a solution. His ankle appears likely to be an ongoing issue, and that means Melbourne must be prepared to handle his absence.