IT was a night of upsets in the National Basketball League (NBL), with a pair of shocking results kicking off the action for Round 5 of the 2023/24 fixture.
The night kicked off with the Adelaide 36ers continuing their remarkable in-season turnaround with an exceptional road win over the New Zealand Breakers, before the action moved to WIN Entertainment Centre for Thursday’s second match.
The Illawarra Hawks have suffered their fair share of criticism over the past few weeks, having sustained some tough losses and slumping to 10th place in the standings. They faced the Cairns Taipans, who would be fresh after some time off following their participation in some NBA preseason games over the past couple of weeks, and would come into this match as favourites.
However, Illawarra claimed a remarkable upset to inject some life into its season, producing one of the most intense finishes of the year in an extremely entertaining game, courtesy of some Tyler Harvey heroics.
Illawarra Hawks (84) def. Cairns Taipans (83)
The Hawks brought energy from the opening tip, looking a far different side to the one that had underperformed in recent weeks. On the other hand, the Taipans’ time off was working against them, as Cairns looked a tad rusty and struggled to find the bottom of the net to start of the match. As a result, the Hawks took a nine-point lead into the first change in their best start to any match this season, especially offensively.
The Taipans kicked into gear in the second quarter, largely led by the efforts of Patrick Miller offensively. Cairns produced much more cohesion on the offensive end, and crept back into striking distance on the scoreboard. However, Illawarra continued to churn along nicely, sharing the ball and finding multiple avenues to scoring, still taking a six-point lead into the main break.
The Hawks slowed down a bit in the third quarter, allowing the Taipans to get right back in the contest. Illawarra began to get a bit cold from the field, not making the most of the open looks it got, and taking some tough shots as a result. By the time the third quarter wrapped, the Taipans trailed by just one point and had the momentum heading into the last.
The game continued to be a see-sawing affair in the dying stages of the match, and it looked like the Taipans had stolen victory. After initially trailing by 13 points, Cairns hit the front in the final minute after Miller knocked down a clutch jumpshot.
Illawarra chose not to use its timeout with six seconds to play, backing its lineup to get Cairns on the back foot in transition. Harvey dribbled the ball up the court, faked right before going left to create space, before putting up a deep three that was reasonably contested. The shot found the bottom of the net with 0.2 seconds on the clock, as the Hawks pulled off a remarkable win, sending the home crowd into raptures.
Harvey top-scored for the Hawks with 20 points to go with three rebounds and five assists and the most important shot of the game, while Sam Froling had a big double-double of 16 points and 13 rebounds. For the Taipans, Miller was the orchestrator of the comeback that nearly got Cairns over the line, finishing the match with a game-high 24 points along with six rebounds and seven assists.