Bullets’ finals chase produces Insane Sunshine Stoush
A RUNNING and gunning Brisbane annihilated Cairns 124-88 at Nissan Arena to remarkably keep their faint chance of playing in the NBL finals alive.
Brisbane needed to beat Cairns by 34 points to get in front of New Zealand on percentage and stay in the hunt for a top-four berth. They also need South East Melbourne to upset Melbourne United Sunday to make the playoffs.
But they took care of the first part of the equation in a wild 'Sunshine Stoush' as they finished the regular season with the same 15-13 win-loss record as the Breakers but edged ahead on for-and-against.
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As the overall score increased during the match, so did the required margin to create the tensest environment ever seen in the NBL for a 30-plus point win.
Brisbane had a 34-point lead on four occasions in the final term before Cairns guard Anthony Fisher hit a lay-up inside the last minute to drag it back to 32 points.
Two free throws to Jason Cadee restored the 34-point lead for Brisbane. Two more free throws from Cam Gliddon iced it and allowed Brisbane to temporarily grab fourth spot on the ladder.
Bullets head coach Andrej Lemanis said Brisbane delivered on its plan to attack from the opening tip-off to the final buzzer.
"I've never been more proud of a team…just coming out and giving ourselves a shot. We talk about being tough and unified and wanting to be known as that and tonight certainly displayed both of those values,'' Lemanis said.
"There's no point getting to tomorrow (Sunday), and Melbourne happen to lose, and having won today by eight and (thinking) 'if only'.
"So we were all-in. We were going to take some chances, take some risks, play at a much faster tempo than we normally play and see what happens…kind of roll the dice.
"You need some things to go your way. They missed some shots…they had 26 turnovers so we sped them up a little bit.
"To our credit we were able to keep that energy for the entire game."
He said Brisbane's suffocating defence was at the heart of the win.
"We were relentless with it. To get a score like that, you need chaos. It's one thing to do it for a quarter…to then keep doing it takes toughness and a deep bench and people believing in it,'' Lemanis said.
Brisbane coaches and players will be on a plane to Melbourne for the NBL awards when the United-Phoenix match tips off and are set to land at halftime of the critical clash.
Gliddon had 25 points for the Bullets in his best game for the season while Nathan Sobey had a game-high 30 points for the home side to go with six assists and six rebounds.
Majok Deng topscored for the Taipans with 20 points.
Brisbane jumped to a 29-point cushion at three quarter-time after Cairns got sucked into playing at the same breakneck speed of the desperate and deadly accurate Bullets.
Brisbane had taken 20 more shots than Cairns by the last change when the Taipans had 21 turnovers.
The Bullets came out firing on all cylinders and raced to an incredible 29-9 lead with two minutes left in the first term.
It was all-out attack mode from the home side who shot at will and extended their defence to a full-court press to put the heat on the Snakes who crumbled under the onslaught that had the sellout crowd of 5145 at "The Armoury" at fever pitch.
The red-hot Brisbane could not miss and a fumbling Cairns could not hang on to the ball, committing 10 turnovers by quarter-time when the Bullets held a 39-15 advantage.
The Bullets got out to a 25-point buffer during the second quarter but Cairns eventually slowed down the pace, stopped panicking and pulled the margin back to 63-45 by halftime.
The aerial contests between Will Magnay and Cam Oliver were a high-octane highlight as rumours swirled that the Bullets big man had attracted an offer of a 10-day contract from the Golden State Warriors in the NBA.
Brisbane confirmed there was interest from the Warriors but nothing was official yet.
Both Queensland clubs have players in the running for multiple NBL awards, including MVP candidates Scott Machado and Lamar Patterson, while Cairns' Mike Kelly should be a certainty for Coach of the Year after being the first coach in NBL history to win a wooden spoon in his first year and make the finals in his second season.
Cairns head coach Mike Kelly said the Taipans were braced for a Brisbane blitz but did not respond.
"We expected Brisbane to come out and play really hard and attack us but I was expecting us to attack that pressure well and get some easy buckets out of that but we didn't do that,'' he said.
"I am tired of these lessons when they happen, we need to continue to get better and finish games, this one was taken out of our hands fairly early, because it is going to be a dog fight in Perth (in the semi-finals).
"The guys feel pretty good right now as far as the big picture. If you look at the locker room the guys weren't happy to get their tails kicked by Brisbane but I think this a really confident group
"I feel great overall about how we are playing.''
Cairns - who finished their regular season with a 16-12 record - were locked into third-place on the ladder before tip-off last night and will play Perth in a best-of-three semi-final series.
Game 1 is in Perth on Friday, February 28 with Game 2 in Cairns on Sunday, March 1. Game 3 - if required - will be in Perth on Thursday, March 5.
Sydney will play either Melbourne United or New Zealand in the other semi-final series.