NBL Winners and Losers: Round 5
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; from individual players to entire teams, coaches to mascots, on-court strategies to off-court distractions and more.
The Breakers dynasty, which ain't quite over
First things first, I need to get this off my chest. I had the Breakers finishing outside the top four in my preseason predictions. Round 5 has given me some serious second thoughts about writing them off.
It's not so much the results that impressed. They scraped past a thoroughly depleted Melbourne United in an overtime thriller, and won at home against a Brisbane Bullets team that is yet to fire on all cylinders. There are no easy wins in the NBL, but these were two games that the Breakers would have approached relatively confidently.
What impressed most is this: the Breakers went 2-0 while Corey Webster went 3-21 (14.3%) for the weekend.
My major concern going into the season was that this version of the Breakers, in the post-Cedric Jackson era, with an ageing Kirk Penney, was going to be too reliant on Webster. Don't get me wrong, he can be a destructive offensive weapon. Last season, New Zealand went 5-0 when Webster piled in 28 or more. But he is prone to cold shooting nights, and they were 5-7 when he shot below 35% from the field.
What New Zealand proved over the weekend is that they can get it done when Webster struggles. Their interior defence made the keyway a graveyard for their opposition, restricting Melbourne and Brisbane to a combined 24-72 (33.3%) from inside the paint. Alex Pledger led the way with a rare double-double-double, backing up his 20 points and 10 rebounds against United with 12 and 12 (and 3 cheeky blocks) in the win over the Bullets.
There's a massive asterisk on all of this with Ben Woodside's injury (more on that later), and finding the right interim replacement for him is vital. But Round 5 was a clear sign that the Breakers could be there when it matters, yet again.
Adelaide went into the harshest environment in the NBL without two of their most experienced players in Mitch Creek and Daniel Johnson. They had no business troubling the defending champs on their home court. Except for the fact that Jerome Randle is a one man wrecking crew who will destroy your fancy arena, and Corban Wroe's dignity, without hesitation.
Randle dropped 40 points in an astounding performance, including a ruthless 9-10 (90%) from inside the arc. If the 36ers can figure out how to play defence, this league better watch out.
24/7 microphones on the coaches, please
The return clash between the Kings and the Taipans in Sydney on Monday night was fun for a whole bunch of reasons. Obviously, there was this game-winning dagger from Kevin Lisch.
But most of the fun stemmed from the second quarter scuffle sparked by Nnanna Egwu's hard foul on Greg Whittington. In the blink of an eye, a remonstrative Jason Cadee was on the scene, Aleks Maric had Mark Worthington in a headlock, and the referees were dishing out unsportsmanlike fouls like candy at Halloween.
In the aftermath, coaches Andrew Gaze and Aaron Fearne were in the finest of form, and the microphones did a great job of picking it up for our listening pleasure. It kicked off with Fearne's expletive-laden disbelief that Maric's headlock didn't elicit a harsher penalty. Next, we were treated to one of the most effusive in-game coach interviews we're likely to see.
The icing on the cake was when referee Vaughan Mayberry appealed to the coaches to help him keep the game under control. Let's just say Fearney had a slightly different reaction to Andrew 'Teacher's Pet' Gaze. Language warning on this one.
The guard injury curse
Shea Ili (back), Mitch Norton (hamstring), Chris Goulding (ankle), Jarrod Kenny (groin), Damian Martin (jaw), Kevin Lisch (calf) and Travis Trice (hip) have all missed time through injury this season.
Now, Ben Woodside (foot) and Damian Martin (again, knee this time) will both endure lengthy stints on the sidelines.
Woodside was heroic on Friday night, playing through pain to help the Breakers over the line against Melbourne. Three of his nine assists came in the last four minutes of regulation, when he was clearly in agony, and he summoned some huge defensive efforts as United repeatedly attacked him with Cedric Jackson post-ups.
That inspirational effort has come at a massive cost though, with Woodside set to miss 6-8 weeks with a ruptured plantar fascia. While the Breakers got the win, the wisdom of leaving Woodside out there to play through the injury has to be questioned.
Meanwhile, Damian Martin's horrible run of bad luck continued, as Brendan Teys fell on his leg in the kind of innocuous incident that could only lead to a serious knee injury. Martin will miss 10-12 weeks with a medial ligament tear, putting the Wildcats in a tough spot.
With Jarrod Kenny yet to return, Perth desperately need help at the point guard position. But unlike New Zealand, their options for an injury replacement are limited without room to bring in another import. Coach Trevor Gleeson ruled out the possibility of a re-deactivation for Jaron Johnson, so expect Nick Marvin to scour every inch of Asia and Oceania for a hidden gem.
Brisbane's offensive droughts
In each of Brisbane's last three defeats, they've lost a quarter by double digits on the back of a scoring drought.
Previously, it was the second quarter doing the damage as Melbourne piled on 29-10 in Round 3, and Sydney outscored them 23-12 in Round 4.
In Round 5, the Bullets fell apart in the final quarter with a paltry 9 points in response to New Zealand's 21. While coach Andrej Lemanis said he was relatively happy with the looks his team generated, they certainly took their fair share of tough, contested shots.
Brisbane are currently seventh in effective field goal percentage (46.5%, per RealGM), highlighting their reliance on offensive rebounds and free throws to cobble together a winning score. When teams lock in, play disciplined defence and protect the defensive boards, the Bullets are grinding to a halt.
Adelaide's invisible four-point turnaround
Perth led 100-97 with 41 seconds remaining when it happened. That special kind of torture that no basketball fan ever wants to endure. That's right, a highlights package during live action. To make matters worse, it was an incoherent jumble of highlights playing while we could hear audio of the decisive crunch time plays that we were missing.
In the 18 seconds of game time that elapsed before Trevor Gleeson called a time out to put an end to the agony, the 36ers scored four points to take the lead 101-100 and strike fear into the hearts of the Red Army. Not the NBL TV production crew's finest moment, that's for sure.