NO MVP candidate? No problem. The final round of the National Basketball League (NBL)’s 2021/22 season kicked off on Thursday night, with the Sydney Kings travelling north to take on the Cairns Taipans at Cairns Convention Centre, with the two teams playing with different goals in mind. Cairns was playing for pride, while Sydney was looking to lock in second position in its two Round 21 clashes. The visiting side came into the game quite undermanned, with superstar Jaylen Adams and crucial big Jarell Martin missing the game through injury on the eve of finals, so it was the perfect time to strike for the Taipans. However, the Kings were too strong in the second half, overcoming a defecit in the second term to push past the Taipans and claim a 10-point win on the road, and set themselves up to secure the second spot on the ladder.
Cairns Taipans (77) def. by Sydney Kings (87)
It was a tense start to the game, with the two teams starting the contest well on the offensive end. Tahjere McCall was the spark for the Taipans, looking to score or create any time he was given the ball. He also had the tough task of keeping an eye on Kings import Ian Clark, who also started the game in strong fashion. The Kings headed into the first break with the slimmest of leads, standing at just one point. Cairns looked to storm away on the scoreboard in the second term, jumping out to a six-point lead behind the long-range efforts of rookie Bul Kuol. Despite promising signs, Sydney did as all good sides do and managed to erase the defecit to close out the term. With the match tied at the main break, the second half was set up in tense fashion.
After a slow start to the third term from both sides, the Kings were finally able to deliver what many expected of them heading in. Makur Maker got things rolling inside, proving too much for the Taipans interior defence, and Sydney was quickly jumping out to a strong lead. His teammates followed suit, and by the time the final change rolled around, Cairns trailed by 13 points, with plenty to do in the final 10 minutes. Things kicked off in ideal fashion, with McCall producing a bucket in the first possession of the fourth quarter. Majok Deng nailed back to back threes and suddenly the Taipans were back within six points. However, Tom Vodanovich gave Sydney some breathing room, and they were able to cruise home to a 10-point victory.
NBA champion and import Ian Clark led the way for the Kings in their win, leading the points column with 21 on some extremely effecient shooting (eight of his nine field goal attempts found the bottom of the net). Xavier Cooks was typically strong with 18 points, while Dejan Vasiljevic chimed in with some big buckets on his way to 15 points. For the Taipans, McCall was excellent and did all he could with 21 points and some impressive defence to match.