South East Melbourne Phoenix has produced a huge fourth quarter to overcome a gutsy Cairns Taipans in an 85-80 win in an NBL blockbuster at the State Basketball Centre on Wednesday night.
The Phoenix took full advantage as the Taipans were forced to play without MVP candidate Keanu Pinder in the final period after he checked out of the game bruised and bloodied after copping an errant elbow from Phoenix back up big Dane Pineau.
Blood was streaming out of Pinder‘s right eye, also from his mouth and a cut on his forehead.
After their third win in a row, the Phoenix have moved up to fifth.
DJ Hogg, arguably the best player on the night with 24 points, came out breathing fire for the Taipans.
He raced to 10 points in the first six minutes as part of 14-point half.
The Taipans held a 24-14 lead with young centre Sam Waardenburg making an impact as Phoenix big Alan Williams was benched with foul issues
. Just when it appeared as though the Taipans were taking control, the Phoenix showed some grit to work their way back into the contest.
Point guard Gary Browne was influential, taking on a leadership role from the point guard position.
Browne was the Phoenix‘s answer to Hogg, doing it all at both ends in a huge first half.
Despite a high turnover rate, 10 in the first half, and a heavy foul count, the Phoenix dug deep to take an unlikely 44-43 lead into half time.
Williams was still able to make an impact in limited first half minutes with 11 points and six rebounds in the first half.
With a slender lead, the Phoenix came out of the gates in the third period on a 7-0 run and stretched their lead to 10 at one point.
Taipans MVP candidate Keanu Pinder showed why he is a star of the league, helping the Taipans on a 7-0 run of their own and giving the visitors hope.
The Taipans capitulated in the fourth.
When Mitch Creek, who had 21 points, seven rebounds and three assists, hit a huge three, the Phoenix was on a 9-0 run and were well on their way to victory.
Browne super aggressive
A big question heading into the game was which Phoenix starter would take on extra scoring responsibility with Ryan Broekhoff missing with a groin injury and the point guard was the most proactive.
The Puerto Rican struck the right balance between facilitating for his teammates and getting a taste of the scoring action of his own.
The 29-year-old was involved in everything in the first half, particularly when Williams was off the court with foul trouble, finishing with 15 points and five assists.
Trey steps up
With Broekhoff out, there is no better time for Trey Kell to step up.
His night was a slow burn, but Kell quietly built a big game.
His shooting was crucial with 17 points and six rebounds.
Williams was a game changer with a double double 17 points and 13 boards.
The Taipans took a collective decision to opt out of wearing the special Pride Round jerseys, announcing their decision pre-game.
Creek, however, donned rainbow coloured sneakers in his support for the LGBTQ community and his teammates wore a rainbow-themed jersey.
“This is special for us,” he said pre-game about the chance to play his part in the NBL‘s Pride Round, which celebrates inclusivity and diversity in sport.
South East Melbourne Phoenix 85 (Cfreek 21 Williams 17 Kell 17) d Cairns Taipans 80 (Hogg 24 Waardenburg 14 Pinder 11)
Originally published as NBL23: South East Melbourne Phoenix edge out Cairns Taipans in last quarter mayhem