NBL Winners and Losers: Round 17
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…
Hope for the purple and gold
After a long mid-season downward spiral, Sydney fans could have been forgiven for writing off this season's playoff hopes. Instead, Round 17 brought a swift reversal of fortune for the Kings.
They didn’t set the world on fire in a tough battle with the Bullets in Brisbane, but did just enough to get a desperately needed win. Against a team with nothing to play for but pride, they refused to concede. It showed a mental fortitude that hasn’t always been seen in Sydney in recent seasons.
Then, on Sunday, they utterly and unexpectedly dismantled the New Zealand Breakers with one of the most comprehensive victories by any team this season. The defensive pressure that triggered their early season form was back as they forced the Breakers into 25 turnovers and held them to just 57 points. Needless to say, they seemed pretty pleased with their weekend's work.
The Cairns Taipans, offensive juggernaut
Prior to Round 17, the Taipans had scored more than 90 points just twice all season. They doubled that tally in a single round with 94 and 91 in wins over New Zealand and Brisbane. Embed from Getty Images
They're still the slowest team in the league, but they have found a sense of purpose and urgency on the offensive end that will have the other six teams in the race for the top four feeling a little nervous.
Their offensive rating has climbed from seventh to fifth, and they now lead the NBL in three-point percentage (37.8%). Cam Gliddon exploded for seven triples in Auckland on Thursday, while it was Travis Trice's turn on Sunday with five against the Bullets. Both of those two have struggled for consistency this season, but Round 17 showed as long as one is firing, the Taipans will be a dangerous proposition.
Shawn Redhage, doing it in style
The tributes are flowing in for Shawn Redhage, after he announced his retirement on Monday, and rightfully so. He has had an incredible NBL career, and is held in the highest of regards by his teammates.
But truth be told, Redhage has had a tough final year, playing less than eight minutes per game and struggling to make his patented offensive impact. Yet he found a way to time his retirement announcement on the back of his most important contribution of the season.
Scores were tied at 69-apiece for more than two minutes down the stretch of Perth's tense battle with Melbourne on Saturday night, before Redhage, enjoying some rare crunch time minutes, made a trademark floater followed by a vital steal to put the Wildcats in the box seat for a vital win.
Adelaide's psychological edge
Having locked up top spot, Adelaide could’ve been forgiven for taking their foot off the gas. Joey Wright's men did no such thing at the Sandpit on Saturday night, fighting to the end in a fiery finals-like encounter with the Hawks.
Nonetheless, they did fall short and in doing so, conceded a 3-1 series defeat. No matter what happens in the final two rounds, Illawarra will be the only team the 36ers won't have beaten at least twice this season. It might just give the Hawks a little extra belief, should the two teams meet again in the finals.
Melbourne's missed opportunities
Melbourne were desperately unlucky to lose in Perth on Saturday night. In the last three minutes, they had nine offensive possessions to Perth's five, yet they were outscored 4-2. Three offensive rebounds were undone by three turnovers; Todd Blanchfield missed a corner three that was the kind of look you wish you could create on every offensive possession; then, there was the final play - an open three for Dave Barlow that airballed followed by Josh Boone's heartbreaking missed put-back on the buzzer.
Melbourne's destiny is still in their own hands, but at 11-13, they can't afford any more missed opportunities.
New Zealand's series problem
It's hard to be tough on the Breakers after the impressive way they rallied around Akil Mitchell following his terrifying injury on Thursday night. But Round 17 was disastrous for last season's runners-up.
They can still get to 14-14 with a couple of wins, but at best their finals fate is likely to rest on some head-to-head series tiebreakers. Having now lost series to Cairns, Illawarra and Sydney, three teams they are trying to leapfrog on the ladder, the odds are no longer in their favour.