RETURNING after a week off, the National Basketball League (NBL) was at its excellent best over the weekend, with Round 9 of the 2023/24 season delivering some high-octane action.
There were no games over the previous weekend due to a break that initially revolved around some FIBA matches, but those were subsequently cancelled. However, the high scoring nature of Round 9 once teams returned indicated the break did wonders for a number of sides, while others struggled to shake off the rust from an interrupted feature. Round 9 had some excellent offensive battles, with two games seeing both sides reach triple-figures in some enthralling action for fans. The ladder-leaders were knocked off, while a number of contenders continued to rise up the rankings.
With that in mind, Rookie Me Central will continue its As It Stands series, unpacking all the action from the round and what it means moving forward.
As It Stands
New Zealand Breakers (96) def. Adelaide 36ers (83)
The Breakers kicked off the round in excellent fashion with a 15-point win over the 36ers at Wolfbrook Arena on Thursday night. It was a result that was evident from the opening quarter, where New Zealand signalled its intentions. The home side led by a whopping 20 points at the first change, and although Adelaide improved throughout the remainder of the match, it was too little, too late as the Breakers cruised home to an important win.
Anthony Lamb top-scored with 24 points to go with six rebounds and six assists, while Izayah Le’afa played a crucial role off the bench with 21 points and seven three-pointers. The guard remained hot when the 36ers began to warm up offensively, and his offensive performance had a big say in the result of the match.
Cairns Taipans (79) def. by Brisbane Bullets (84)
The Bullets secured the first upset of the round by handing the Taipans a five-point loss at the Cairns Convention Centre on Friday night. The visiting side looked to take control of the match in the third term, but had to withstand a Cairns comeback, but the Bullets made the necessary free throws late in the match to hold on for an important win in the context of their season.
Forward Chris Smith was a standout off the bench, delivering a team-high 17 points in 19 minutes of court time. While he delivered an inaccurate shooting performance, Nathan Sobey nailed some big shots from the charity stripe down the stretch and was important. For the Taipans, Tahjere McCall fought hard with 29 points and rallied the team for a near-miracle win.
Perth Wildcats (114) def. Sydney Kings (105)
In one of the most engaging games of the season, the Wildcats solidified their status as genuine contenders with a nine-point win over the Kings at RAC Arena on Friday night. After trailing by 10 points at the main break, the home side took over in a tide-turning third quarter, and outscored Sydney 64-48 to stretch their winning streak to six in a remarkable turnaround.
There would have been no victory for Perth if not for the performance of Cotton, who was immense with a vintage outing. The three-time MVP could be headed for a fourth after producing a whopping 41 points on Friday night, cementing his status as still the best player in the game. Jonah Bolden was almost the hero with 28 points in 22 minutes in a heroic performance for Sydney off the bench.
SEM Phoenix (90) def. New Zealand Breakers (79)
The Phoenix claimed a much-needed win over the Breakers at John Cain Arena in the first of Saturday’s games. For much of the match, New Zealand looked in the box seat, able to control the tempo of the game and take a solid lead into the main break. However, South East Melbourne was the better side in the second half, holding a one-point advantage on the scoreboard at the last change before a 24-14 fourth quarter sealed the result.
Veteran forward Mitch Creek was the match-winner for the Phoenix in the end, putting the team on his back when South East Melbourne had its against the wall. He finished the game with 26 points and seven rebounds, including some big shots down the stretch to steer his side to victory. For the Breakers, Le’Afa had another solid outing with 17 points.
Tasmania JackJumpers (94) def. Adelaide 36ers (59)
The JackJumpers recorded their biggest win in the club’s short history, thrashing the 36ers to the tune of 35 points at John Cain Arena on Saturday night. It was a game that proved ominous from the get-go for the visitors, with Tasmania doing as it pleased from the opening quarter in a completely one-sided performance. The 36ers luckily surpassed their lowest-ever score of 57 points in a game, but only just, as the JackJumpers flexed their muscles as a contender for the 2023/24 season.
Import guard Milton Doyle was Tasmania’s best with 20 points and six assists, both of which were game-high totals. He will likely be alongside Cotton in the MVP conversation later in the season, and this performance demonstrated why. Other strong contributors for the winners included Sean Macdonald (15 points, 3/4 3PT) and Jack McVeigh (14 points).
Melbourne United (103) def. by Cairns Taipans (115)
In the boilover of the round, the Taipans recorded a remarkable road win at John Cain Arena on Sunday afternoon, handing the ladder-leading United a 12-point loss. The championship favourites have solidified themselves as the game’s best defensive side, but could not contain a Cairns side that simply did not miss for large portions of the match. Halfway through the third term, the Taipans were shooting 74 per cent from the field, and although Melbourne tried to mount a number of comebacks, the efforts were in vein.
The win was set up by an excellent offensive performance from import Patrick Miller in the first half, recording 21 of his 32 points in the opening two quarters. He made 12 of his 16 attempts from the field and also dished out 10 dimes, proving a constant contributor, even when Melbourne sent plenty of defensive attention his way.
Brisbane Bullets (78) def. Illawarra Hawks (77)
Round 9 of the NBL closed out with a thriller, as the Bullets executed late in the game for the second time this weekend to hand the Hawks a one-point loss at Nissan Arena on Sunday afternoon. In a see-sawing affair, neither side could find the match-winning run, but Brisbane defended like its life depended on it in the final minute of the game, shutting down any potential scoring opportunity for Illawarra to record another important result.
Smith delivered his second strong outing in as many games, posting 16 points off the bench on 6/12 shooting from the field. Big man Tyrell Harrison had some big plays down the stretch, defending the paint in clutch situations to finish the match with 10 points, eight rebounds and two blocks.
1. Melbourne United (10-3)
2. Tasmania JackJumpers (8-5)
3. Perth Wildcats (8-5)
4. Sydney Kings (7-5)
5. SEM Phoenix (7-6)
6. Brisbane Bullets (7-7)
7. Cairns Taipans (5-7)
8. New Zealand Breakers (4-8)
9. Adelaide 36ers (4-9)
10. Illawarra Hawks (3-8)