By: Andrew Price / @andrewbprice
NBL fans were again treated to a blistering round of basketball in Australia this week. The NZ Breakers pulled out a massive win over the Gold Coast Blaze and sent ripples around the league that this team might be able to pull off the repeat championship, especially after following up the win on the road against the Adelaide 36ers two days later.
Sydney also managed to get the win at home over Adelaide in an overtime thriller that saw star centre (and potential future Golden State Warrior; he flies to California today for a one week trial with the team) Julian ‘The Big Sneeze’ Khazzouh score a massive 20 points, 21 rebounds, 4 assists and 4 blocks. Unlike the Breakers however, the Kings couldn’t back up their win in Townsville two nights later, despite another giant of a game from Khazzouh.
But there should be no doubt that the game of the round was the much anticipated matchup between Cairns and Melbourne.
To understand why, you’ll need to know the back story.
Last season, as with many in recent memory had seen the Cairns Taipans written off in pre-season talks. The team wasn’t exactly stacked with talent, they had an import point guard in Ayinde Ubaka that had performed well in previous seasons, but had had limited success on middle of the road teams. Their second import slot was filled by the well-travelled, but relatively unknown Ron Dorsey while their local talent was all but overwhelming. Despite this, and as a credit to their coaching staff, the Taipans made a strong run to the post-season and met the hot favourite New Zealand Breakers in the final series.
The first game was a blow out win to the Breakers on their home court, but the second – well, it’s a game that will not be forgotten on either side of the Tasman for some time. Breaker’s guard CJ Bruton hits a three with five seconds left to put the game into overtime, only to be trumped five minutes later by Ron Dorsey with this shot forcing double overtime:
The Taipans were eventual winners in that second overtime (although they lost game three and the Championship), but that shot was enough to elevate Ron Dorsey to Taipans royalty and into NBL history.
What’s that got to do with the Melbourne Tigers?
Well, while the Taipans were making history in the playoffs, the Tigers were licking their wounds after a disastrous season. A total makeover was needed to get this proud club back on track.
So they went hunting.
They fired their head coach, poaching the reigning coach of the year from Townsville, sacked basically their entire backcourt, hired the locked out Patty Mills and dropped fan favourite Daryl Corletto. But it didn’t end there: the Tigers also signed three of the heroes from the overachieving Taipans team – Daniel Dillon, Ayinde Ubaka and yes – Ron Dorsey.
This left the Taipans management to recruit an entirely new back court, while the Taipans fans were left with a bitter taste in their mouths.
The two teams would meet for the first time this season during round five in Melbourne – Cairns with their two new import guards and Melbourne with local NBA talent Patty Mills. The Tigers won the game easily, although defectors Dorsey & Ubaka would only score 11 points between them.
For Cairns fans this was a second kick in the teeth – many circling Saturday the 10th of December as a chance to get their own back at the team that had decimated them both off court as well as on.
That Saturday rolls around, and the fans that packed out the Cairns Convention Centre wanted tiger blood.
The two teams put on a show for the fans, and almost with a sense of irony it was the Cairns new backcourt that won the game for the snakes.
Down 65 – 67 the Taipans were again bailed out by their import guards, as Jamar Wilson layed up the ball in traffic in what seemed like slow motion to push the game to overtime. That wasn’t enough for Wilson though, hitting his form in the overtime period and scoring 9 points to win the game for Cairns despite Ron Dorsey going lights out from three on his old court.
Ubaka hit a shot on the buzzer that would have won the game for the Tigers and crushed the hearts of Taipans fans, but it was eventually (and correctly) ruled as too late by officials. See for yourself:
It wasn’t just a moral victory for the Taipans though; beating the Tigers also meant taking over that fourth and final playoff spot and forcing the Tigers into a league worst five game losing streak. The Tigers no doubt learnt a few lessons from their time in Cairns, ones that they were will have to rectify soon if they want to turn their once promising season around, but there is no doubt that this week belongs to the city of Cairns and their new hero point guard, Jamar Wilson.
Andrew Price is the creator of lobpasstoabercrombie.com, where he writes about his love affair with basketball, the NBL and his hometown team, the New Zealand Breakers. Follow him on Twitter @andrewbprice and read Abercrombie & Fitchett every week on ELA.