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It's Bryce time: NBL Rd 20 Wrap

YES, you've found it. The NBL Wrap of the Round with every game reviewed is all right here in one place for your viewing pleasure, or otherwise. The playoffs are set, 2023 Grand Finallists Sydney and New Zealand in the KO "play-in" and Tasmania hosting Illawarra. And Bryce Cotton should tonight be named MVP. 

That will make him a four-time MVP and put him in the rare air of seriously being in the "greatest import of all-time conversation".

Not sure though how his coach at Perth, John Rillie, made it into the top three contenders for Coach of the Year alongside Melbourne's Dean Vickerman and Illawarra's Justin Tatum.

The winner here is easy for me. Tatum. He turned the last-placed basket case into a top four team. Love what he's done and already achieved.

Vickerman is a great coach who has done a wonderful job with a very talented team and would not be a bad choice either.

Rillie is being praised for how he's turned Perth around after its slow start. Well frankly, he turned it around from the poor direction HE was taking it in the first place, over-rating Jordan Usher, under-rating Cotton, ignoring Jesse Wagstaff.

When he stopped making those mistakes, then yes, the Wildcats turned back into a contender, so hats off for that. But was what he did better than what Scott Roth again did at Tasmania? 

My All Star Five remains a "team" not some positionless twaddle. So it would be Cotton, Chris Goulding, Anthony Lamb, Gary Clark and Isaac Humphries.

The only debate for me would be Parker Jackson-Cartwright. His last month, since Lamb was hurt, was sensational and he would be in my Second Five. But I think there's some recency bias in his selection among the top three for MVP.

Will Magnay is the most influential Sixth Man, Shea Ili gets my nod for Best Defensive and Jaylin Galloway is Most Improved.

The Next Gen award will likely go to Alex Sarr because the NBL wants its nose in any NBA business. But Luke Travers has been a revelation at Melbourne this season.

Coaches and captains from all 10 teams, and a "panel of experts", voted for the MVP, while the head coach, assistant coach and captain of each team voted for the Coach of the Year, Sixth Man of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, Most Improved Player, Next Generation Award and All-NBL Teams. Head coaches, the NBL Head of Referees, and Referee Panel voted for the Referee of the Year. Surely that's Video Vaughan?

Here's what happened in the last round: 

IT would be a crying shame if the noise over the uttering of the "N" word allegedly by Illawarra import Justin Robinson, now detracted from the club's tremendous success in sweeping NBL powerhouse Perth to qualify for the playoffs in front of a roaring Wollongong crowd.

"Go sit down n-----," was the comment at Wildcats guard Tai Webster with 6:51 left in the game after he was called for a foul against Gary Clark.

No fuss was made of the remark in the game but post-match social media - that trustworthy bastion of all things factual and relevant - blew up about its "cultural significance," "racism" etcetera.

Was it a smart thing to say? Hell no.

But does it have genuine cultural significance to Australians, or Kiwis for that matter?

I don't doubt that it does on many levels for Americans. I cannot speak for others but having been around my African American friends using that word among each other as a term of endearment, I cringe at the rush to misappropriate the term and brand its user as racist.

No question it was not being used in this instance as a "term of endearment" but it also was not being used as a racial epithet either. If Tai Webster was offended, then there may be a case to answer.

But he did not appear to be and so, as the refs did at the time, hopefully the NBL will let this pass without the unnecessary and overblown scrutiny social media has already subjected it to.

Because the game was, as expected, a cracker, Clark leading the Hawks with a 17-point first half and to a 56-50 interval lead, despite Bryce Cotton having already seized his moments to break from Illawarra's defensive shackles.

Hyrum Harris was huge for the Wildcats and when Alex Sarr tied the game at 70-70, what was about to unfold was well hidden.

Tyler Harvey restored the Hawks' lead, Todd Blanchfield doubled it and then it was Will "Davo" Hickey time. The livewire guard scored, added a pair of free throws, then threw down a copybook fast-break dunk off a perfect Robinson pass as WIN Entertainment Centre collectively lost its mind.

He was on an 8-0 run of his own as Illawarra blew the margin to double-figures, then on to 14 at 84-70 before Jesse Wagstaff added a free throw.

Clark brought fans from their seats when he ran Cotton down on a break and blocked his lay-up, leading to another Hawks basket.

Illawarra persistently challenged Perth's transition defence and crashed the boards, particularly offensively where they snagged 20 to the Wildcats' 24 defensive rebounds.

Hyunjung Lee set that tone early and his late and deliberate 3-point bank shot now had the Hawks' bench jumping to its feet. So too when Kyle Adnum saw his first action this season, swishing a 3-pointer with his first touch.

There was more gloom though for Perth, Kristian Doolittle with a sore shoulder after running into a perfectly legal Sam Froling screen - he should be furious at teammate Keanu Pinder for not alerting him - and Cotton bumping knees and coming off second best.

Neither injury though looked likely to keep them out of the post-season. 

ILLAWARRA HAWKS 108 (Clark 26, Froling, Harvey 16, Robinson 11, Hickey 10; Clark 11 rebs; Robinson 5 assts) d PERTH WILDCATS 92 (Cotton 20, H. Harris 15, Usher 12, Sarr 11, Pinder 10; H.Harris 7 rebs; T.Webster 5 assts) at WIN Entertainment Centre. Crowd: 4,486

PARKER Jackson-Cartwright produced another match-winning performance for New Zealand to leave Brisbane now sweating the result of the Sydney-South East Melbourne match while Cairns revealed that as pundits, we just don't pay enough attention, as they again smacked NBL leader Melbourne.

Considering both New Zealand and Brisbane were playing for their playoff lives, the Bullets were strangely lacking in the requisite urgency and it was only some fouling ill-discipline by the Breakers - who would finish with four players nursing four fouls - which kept them alive.

That and a hotly-contested Chris Smith 3-pointer to close the first quarter was the only reason Brisbane was a mere 21-26 behind.

Mangok Mathiang picked up his second foul, then a tech to exit as Brisbane made a minor rally.

Zylan Cheatham and Will McDowell-White then quickly had the Breakers 10 points ahead at 33-23, but a Nathan Sobey-led charge dragged Brisbane back to 34-35.

Isaac White tied it up from the stripe and again it was unheralded Dane Pineau off the Breakers' bench who ignited his team. PJC was active, WMW also going and Finn Delany off-and-running in a 10-0 run for a 46-36 lead.

With his sixth point for the quarter, Pineau took the lead to 52-40. With 1.4 seconds to halftime and the Breakers with an offensive sideline possession, Mody Maor showed how smart he is.

Subbing in club icon Tom Abercrombie, who announced his retirement this week, he took out Pineau, realising Brisbane's inexperienced big Rocco Zikarsky was unlikely to follow the sub out of the key.

That allowed NZ to execute a perfect last play, Abercrombie splashing a wide open three for 55-40 going into the main interval.

Brisbane was carried by Josh Bannan who produced his NBL career-high 29 points on a slick 12-of-14 shooting, including 4-of-4 threes.

He ensured the Bullets had a pulse. PJC ensured it was an erratic one though, driving to the hoop and scoring amazing shots or dishing wicked passes.

Jackson-Cartwright finished with 27 points at 56 per cent, with a game-high eight assists, Izayah Le'afa hammering in the coffin-nails with a series of morale-boosting or back-breaking - depending on which team you support - 3-pointers to close this with all of New Zealand cheering.

NEW ZEALAND BREAKERS 103 (Jackson-Cartwright 27, Cheatham 19, Le'afa 15, Rubstavicius 12, Delany 11; McDowell-White 7 rebs; Jackson-Cartwright 8 assts) d BRISBANE BULLETS 87 (Bannan 29, Sobey 16, Norton 10; Harrison 6 rebs; Sobey 6 assts) at Spark Arena. Crowd: 6,085

IT doesn't matter what you think you know! You need to pay attention to facts! And, like many others, I overlooked the fact Cairns already twice this season had KO'd Melbourne, despite United's lofty and well-deserved standing as the team to beat for the championship.

The body language and evidence-of-the-eyes - not to mention recent results - said the Taipans were a team in torment, with several key players likely to be moved along at the season's imminent end.

Tahjere McCall for starters, clearly fell out of favour with coach Adam Forde, and considering Fordy even let McCall coach preseason games, this was a bond few would have foreseen fracturing so obviously.

But it did and it has, and Pat Miller, as McCall's good friend, could not avoid being caught in the storm. Bul Kuol was out with an injury - although many suspect he still fouled out regardless - so what could we expect of the Orange when so many clearly were waiting for the final siren and the Exit door?

Well what we got must have been the result of some serious last-week-of-the-season talks between coach and key players resolving that all issues - whatever they may be - would be buried for one last go-around and then, on your way.

McCall at halftime talking about how much he'd enjoyed his three years in Cairns screamed of the inevitable. Miller post-game talking about his contribution spoke of a player circulating his resume.

Neither seemed happy, which, after sweeping the championship favourite, spoke to the general malaise which led many of us to believe this game wasn't left in them.

Well it was, McCall with a 23-point, 9-rebound, 10-assist near triple-double haul, plus three steals, leaving on as high a note as it might be possible to go.

Cairns took control of this early, Taran Armstrong and Sam Waardenburg better than their numbers suggested and the further it went, the greater the margin blew out.

By late in the third period, this was embarrassing and reflected on Dean Vickerman and his staff not thinking this one out. They surely could have drawn more out of role players such as Flynn Cameron, Tanner Krebs, Kyle Bowen, Zac Triplett and retiree Brad Newley had they been given greater responsibility.

A few others - Chris Goulding (5 points, 2-of-11 shooting), Jo Lual-Acuil (8 points, one rebound, five fouls in 15 minutes) - did not appear overly interested and it took Ian Clark to keep the United competitive.

Luke Travers, with 10 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks had his head in the game but it was only trailing 54-77 with a period to play Melbourne switched on. It was 0-of-16 from the 3-point line but struck four in a 34-20 last quarter revival which kept this interesting.

They had the deficit back to four at 84-88 on Goulding's only triple but the Taipans always had the answers. So disappointing they long ago lost sight of the bigger question.

CAIRNS TAIPANS 97 (McCall 23, Miller 20, Roberts, Armstrong 12; McCall 9 rebs; McCall 10 assts) d MELBOURNE UNITED 88 (Clark 20, Dellavedova 16, Hukporti 15, Travers 10; Travers 13 rebs; Dellavedova 5 assts) at Cairns Convention Centre. Crowd:  4,378

SOUTH East Melbourne was smashed and humiliated by defending NBL champion Sydney, the Kings keeping alive their threepeat dream with DJ Hogg finding his shot, while Perth minus Bryce Cotton gave Tasmania something of a game before succumbing to another JackJumper swarm.

Playing without any of their imports, the Phoenix still were expected to show the spunk of recent times which included twin wins over the Kings.

Opening with a thundering Gorjok Gak slam dunk, then a second one, South East fans were loving life. Matt Kenyon's 3-pointer gave the Phoenix a 7-3 lead and at this point, no-one realised now would be the optimum time to photograph the scoreboard.

Threes by Denzel Valentine and Jaylen Adams pushed Sydney ahead - Jonah Bolden's triple opened the Kings' scoring - and when Jaylin Galloway and DJ Hogg entered the game, Sydney's scoring started to significantly tick.

Any plan the Phoenix may have entertained about holding onto the ball, running the shot-clock to 20 seconds or so, forcing the Kings to play D and cut down on how long Sydney could possess the ball, went out the window in a flurry of bad and early shots.

Mitch Creek and Ben  Ayre last had South East within touch at 12-15 halfway through the period. What followed was a Kings' avalanche which totally buried and destroyed South East. 

Alex Toohey's layup ignited a 17-0 Sydney sequence for a 20-point lead and this was over.

South East showed some stomach for the fight in the second quarter but down 39-63 at halftime, all that was to follow was the Kings' rejuvenating and saving their season in the most emphatic manner of any club this season.

To compete in the play-in/playoffs, this was a "must win" and the players seized their moment to make a statement.

The Kings' threepeat bid is not yet dead, Hogg finishing with a season-best 25 points on 8-of-11 shooting, 3-of-4 threes, 6-of-6 from the stripe.

Sydney's 55-point massacre was beyond embarrassing, the Kings collectively smashing it on the boards 52-34 and shooting at 60 percent to 32. 

SYDNEY KINGS 122 (Hogg 25, Adams 24, Galloway, Valentine 17, Toohey 16, Bolden 10; Valentine 8 rebs; Adams 9 assts) d SOUTH EAST MELBOURNE PHOENIX 67 (Foxwell 16, Creek 13, Rapp 7; Stattman 5 rebs; Rosendale, Ayre 3 assts) at John Cain Arena. Crowd: 8,279

ONCE it was common knowledge Bryce Cotton would not be competing, the only thing standing between Tasmania and a strong home showing was complacency.

And with the match having special teal significance for the JackJumpers and already 0-2 to the Wildcats this season, complacency never was going to be an issue for Scott Roth's troops.

Leaving Wollongong with his left arm in a sling, Kristian Doolittle made a sufficient recovery to start in Hobart, and Alexandre Sarr contributed 17 points at 63 percent.

But truly, no-one could replace Cotton's missing scoring, leadership and sheer on-court presence.

An even first quarter closed with Tai Webster (15 points on 7-of-9 shooting) tying it at 22-22.

Keanu Pinder's dunk gave Perth a 28-26 lead, inciting the best from Tasmaia. Will Magnay (13 points, eight rebounds, five blocks) tied it back up, Milton Doyle (24 points, 5 threes, five rebounds, five assists) put the JackJumpers ahead, Jack McVeigh (20 points, 10 rebounds) bumped the lead out further. Suddenly, a 10-0 run had the JJs sitting pretty at 36-28.

Another McVeigh basket, which he followed with a 3-pointer saw the lead ballooning, Clint Steindl's three making it 44-30.

Steindl's next three helped Tassie to a match-winning 25-10 period, Perth left staring at a bleak second half of chasey.

Magnay blocking shots, Tasmania patiently moving the ball to find the best option and everyone committed defensively made the contrast to Perth's one-on-five activities very stark.

No Cotton = No Perth. Meanwhile livewire Ants guard Jordon Crawford went 0-of-7 in 24 minutes, again the contrast in relying on one champion or a system very stark. 

TASMANIA JACKJUMPERS 86 (Doyle 24, McVeigh 20, Magnay 13; McVeigh 10 rebs; Doyle 5 assts) d PERTH WILDCATS 72 (Sarr 17, T.Webster 15, Pinder 10; Doolittle 5 rebs; Henshall, Usher 3 assts) at MyState Bank Arena. Crowd: 4,340

A FRUSTRATED Chris Goulding sparked NBL leader Melbourne to life over Illawarra before Adelaide consigned New Zealand to a road KO "play-in" game against Sydney - can we not just call it a "top six" and not blindly and blithely copy the NBA all the time? - in what remarkably will be a rematch of last season's Grand Final - oops - "Championship" Series. 

Goulding was not exactly having a great night, going into the halftime break at John Cain Arena with his United trailing 38-42 after scoring a meagre 15 points to Illawarra's 25 in the second period.

The shooting star had not made a field goal and his three points all came from the stripe after he was fouled attempting a 3-pointer.

As they had to Perth, the Hawks crashed the offensive glass and ran the ball at United at every opportunity. They ran a similar defensive strategy at Goulding as they have in the past at Perth's Bryce Cotton and it was working.

That Illawarra was travelling in the driver's seat although Gary Clark was being kept under wraps, was testament to the teamwork and ball movement that ultimately led to 25 assists on 34 made baskets.

Sam Froling needed more touches as his 12 points came on 6-of-8 shooting, to tag alongside his game high in rebounds (9) and assists (5).

And his backups Mason Peatling (8 points, 4-of-4 shooting) and Lachlan Olbrich (5 points, 2-of-2) were perfect from the floor, giving the Hawks the edge over Melbourne's twin towers Jo Lual-Acuil (7 points on 3-of-9) and Ariel Hukporti (4 points on 1-of-1 shots, 2-of-4 free throws).

The game's complexion changed when Goulding went off for eight third quarter and eight fourth quarter points, a pair of threes in each bundle.

Melbourne's 30-point third quarter doubled its second term score and pushed it into the lead with a period to play.

Matthew Dellavedova had the better of Justin Robinson, his 17 points at 70 per cent and including 3-of-3 threes.

Robinson, who generally had a decent game, hurt the Hawks with his last quarter decision-making,  Tyler Harvey stuck over at the scorebench waiting to check in as the game slipped away.

On the 39th birthday of soon-to-be-retired warrior guard/forward Brad Newley, United coach Dean Vickerman started his veteran and ran the opening play for him, which Newley duly rewarded with the match's opening basket.

MELBOURNE UNITED 92 (Goulding 19, Dellavedova 17, Clark, Travers 13; Hukporti, Lual-Acuil 5 rebs; Dellavedova 5 assts ) d ILLAWARRA HAWKS 87 (Robinson 14, Harvey 13, Froling 12; Froling 9 rebs; Froling, Robinson 5 assts) at John Cain Arena. Crowd: 10,175

NEW Zealand definitely was running on empty by the time Adelaide had this locked away, the Breakers still showing great heart to bring the match back to a tight finish after trailing by as many as 16.

Already down All Star Five quality forward Anthony Lamb for the rest of the season, a disconsolate Finn Delany was ruled out ahead of tip-off and when the Breakers also lost William McDowell-White to a recurring shoulder dislocation, turning this around into a win was out of the question.

After a tight first half, marred by officiating which erroneously raced Mangok Mathiang onto two fouls inside the first three minutes, the 36ers broke away, rediscovering Isaac Humphries as a scoring option.

Dejan Vasiljevic (25 points on 7-of-19 shooting, career-high 14 rebounds), missed his first four shots - all ill-conceived attempts - as the Sixers looked for offensive answers while looking off Humphries!

Kyrin Galloway and Nick Marshall carried the 36ers' offence, Jason Cadee - starting in place of the injured Trey Kell (foot) - with the three that gave them a 17-14 lead after one.

Parker Jackson-Cartwright (24 points, 9-of-20) kept the scoreboard ticking and McDowell-White scored 10 of his 14 points in the second period as the Breakers maintained the pressure.

Someone noticed Humphries during the interval, his 15 points all coming in the second half as he (re-)established his inside presence and actually received the ball.

Consequently by the last break, Adelaide was ahead 58-47, a lead which was still at 16 (70-54) when Humphries nailed a corner 3-pointer which almost blew the roof off the AEC.

It revived memories of Paul Rees in his heyday taking that rare triple, and why not, considering Humphries and the 36ers again were in their heritage blue uniforms of the 1999 championship outfit once more.

Zylan Cheatham, PJC and some late bombs by Izayah Le'afa and Cam Gliddon turned this back into a contest as the 36ers tried to remember how to lose.

But under Scott Ninnis, they won more than they lost and the last match of the season was going to be no exception.   

ADELAIDE 36ERS 76 (Vasiljevic 25, Humphries 15, Marshall, Galloway 8; Vasiljevic 14 rebs; McCarron 6 assts) d NEW ZEALAND BREAKERS 70 (Jackson-Cartwright 24, McDowell-White 14, Cheatham, Rubstavicius 8; Cheatham 13 rebs; Cheatham 4 assts) at Adelaide Entertainment Centre. Crowd: 9,513

Feb 19

Content, unless otherwise indicated, is © copyright Boti Nagy.