It was a sick sense of déjà vu for the Cairns Taipans in front of their home crowd, but the Orangemen have scraped through after yet another second-half meltdown to beat the Illawarra Hawks 85-79 on Sunday afternoon.
Having already blown three double-digit second-half leads at home this year, the Snakes looked poised to blow one of their largest of the season – a 21-point buffer at the midpoint of the third quarter – as the Hawks got within just two only 10 minutes later.
But when the chips were down, Cairns rode the hot hand of big man Nate Jawai to close out one of the stranger games of the season.
Cairns coach Aaron Fearne likes the way his side has been playing of late and has his eye on a run to the playoffs.
“I think we have been playing solid-to-good basketball, I wouldn’t say we’ve been playing great hoops,” Fearne said post-game.
“A close loss in Melbourne in a massive game where they threw everything at us, and we lose that game over in Perth where we played really well and battled, then the grind tonight.
“If we can get on a roll here… every game out from now on is like a playoff game. You know that you need to play well to move forward. The guys will get a lot of confidence out of this weekend.”
Meanwhile, Hawks coach Rob Beveridge still has unanswered questions about his group so late in the season.
“There’s a common theme with our group in that we are consistently inconsistent, and it happened again tonight. Simple as that,” he said.
“You don’t know what you are going to get from us. But I’m very, very pleased with the fight in the guys.
“I don’t have the answer for why we are so inconsistent. But we’re not the only one. I think every team in the league is like that.”
The game looked all but over when the Snakes rode a 15-1 run to lead by 21 points midway through the third term, but opened the floodgates after an outstanding 2.5 quarters of defence following their game in Perth less than 48 hours prior.
With each Illawarra bucket, the crowd and Taipans got more nervous, with coach Aaron Fearne screaming at his shell-shocked players to re-focus and increase tempo.
Emerging frontcourt star Nick Kay helped the Hawks back to a 14-point margin with a quarter to play, while frontcourt mate AJ Ogilvy (eight fourth-quarter points) took the reins early in the fourth, going toe-to-toe with Jawai.
When Ogilvy passed the baton back to Kay – who finished with a game-high 20 points – Cairns’ lead was just two with 5:33 on the clock.
But more huge plays from Jawai – 10 fourth-quarter points, including the Snakes’ first eight of the period – and Mitch McCarron sealed the deal.
Gliddon and Trice led the home side with 18 and 16 apiece, but Jawai (16) was the Snakes’ most important man.
Cairns came out of the gates shooting their shots without hesitation to earn a 22-15 quarter-time lead, before three quick buckets cut the margin to five.
The pace was much too slow for Illawarra’s liking, but three cherry-picked layups from Coenraad and Kay, along with several calm plays by veteran point guard Rhys Martin kept them in the contest, trailing 45-38 at the main break.
But that’s where things seemed to fall apart for a Hawks side starting to reveal a few chinks in the armour as the regular season winds down.
Gliddon and Trice opened the half with a triple each, which became a 15-1 explosion from the home side.
In four minutes Cairns had broken the game open to a 21-point lead, before Rotnei Clarke was inserted for some much-needed offence. Despite closing the quarter with a flurry, third quarters have proved Illawarra’s Achilles heel this round, going minus-19 in their two games.
The Hawks are back in action at the WIN Entertainment Centre this Saturday night against the league leading Adelaide 36ers. Tickets still available here.
CAIRNS TAIPANS 85 (Gliddon 18, Trice 16, Jawai 14)
ILLAWARRA HAWKS 79 (Kay 20, Ogilvy 14, Clarke 10, Martin 10)