It is all level in the NBL semifinal series between Cairns Taipans and Perth Wildcats as the two clubs prepare to play the decider in Perth on Thursday.
A spot in the Grand Final series is at stake and it only seems fitting that if the team without a state is to complete the Cinderella story of their 2019 – 2020 NBL campaign, they will have to be the belles of the ball on the road at Perth.
Taipans clamped the jaws down on Perth import James Cotton and held him to 11 points after Cotton had dropped 42 points on Cairns in the opener.
Cairns won game two 85 – 74, so it will be a motivated Cotton in the decider.
Cairns got an offensive boost from their big Cam Oliver and Oliver came up big. He scored 22 points and grabbed 19 boards and the Cairns club faced a win-or-go-home scenario that motivated the entire list to play desperate hoop to stay alive.
“I put a lot of pressure on myself and I know I can handle it,” Oliver said. “We stayed composed. We didn’t hang our heads after that first loss and we knew we’d come back home to a great crowd.”
The effort by the Orange Men was off the charts and did not hinge solely on Oliver’s’ broad shoulders.
Cairns’ other big, Nate Jawai, came from the bench to add 12 points.
Significantly, Oliver held his own and actually got the upper hand on Perth centre Miles Plumlee, of the Plumlee NBA dynasty.
Oliver scored 11 in the first quarter, grabbed five rebounds and a blocked shot.
Perth need Cotton to add some starch to his togs. If he is held in check in the third game as he was in the second, all or Northern Territory will be free to express jubilation.
Another performance, such as the one that held Perth to 31 points in the first half of the game, does seem like a prescription for success, but in basketball, the difference between 31 points for a half, as opposed to double that, is often a question of a few missed shots falling.
Perth did not go quietly into the night, good or bad. They shrank the Taipans advantage to seven points in the fourth quarter, but Scott Machado, with the assistance of Oliver and D J Newbill put steady hands to the tiller and kept the dreams of Cairns alive.
“Cairns played like it was an elimination game. They came out firing and we weren’t able to match up on court,” Wildcats forward Nick Kay said.
Well, it was, wasn’t it?