Playoffs Game 3: Brave Taipans go down fighting
CQUniversity Cairns Taipans (64) lost to Sydney Kings (79)
Playoffs Series Game 3 | Qudos Bank Arena
Trying to beat the defending champions on their home floor without two key players in a fifth game in 10 days might not have happened for the CQUniversity Cairns Taipans, but it's a season that everyone involved deserves to be tremendously proud.
While the Sydney Kings ended up winning Game 3 of the Playoffs Series 79-64 at Qudos Bank Arena on Sunday with the Taipans looking understandably out on their feet by the end, it's a season with so much to take out of.
Just the fact the Snakes were able to push the series to a deciding third game was a significant achievement given both Keanu Pinder and Tahjere McCall missed Game 1, and then it was Pinder and Shannon Scott sidelined for both Games 2 and 3.
Still, the Taipans gave themselves a chance and Ben Ayre (20 points, four assists) and Sam Waardenburg (17 points, 12 rebounds) were terrific on Sunday afternoon, but the defence of the Kings was terrific and then they got enough going offensively to get the job done.
While the Taipans season is now over, so much was achieved and plans will now begin already to start the push to build on the momentum further in NBL24.
Even though Cairns went up 5-2 early, the signs were encouraging for Sydney went on a 9-0 run to lead 11-5 after DJ Vasiljevic drained a rare three for the series.
The Taipans hit back in characteristic fashion, though, starting with three-pointers to Ben Ayre and Lat Mayen. When Sam Waardenburg also landed from deep, the Snakes had scored 11 straight points to be up 16-11.
After it was Jonah Antonio and Mayen to shine in the first halves on the first two games, it was Ayre's turn this time for Cairns and he scored eight points on 3/3 shooting to help the Taipans lead 26-20 after one.
The Taipans shooting dried up in the second quarter and the Kings started off with an 11-2 run to grab the lead. Sydney also closed the half with another 10-4 run including three-pointers to Derrick Walton Jr and Jordan Hunter.
That saw Sydney take a 48-39 lead into the half-time break and the Kings making 15/17 at the foul line was crucial as were the next extra rebounds while also holding Cairns to 37 per cent shooting overall and 5/17 from beyond the arc.
The Taipans opened up with a pair of threes from Ayre and Sam Waardenburg, but the Kings lead was back out to seven on a strong drive from Angus Glover midway through the third quarter but Waardenburg's third long ball of the game kept the Snakes within touch.
It was the 20 points from Ayre and 15 and nine rebounds from Waardenburg that kept the Taipans close with the Kings still up 62-58 by three quarter-time.
Sydney was back up six with a strong drive and finish from Vasiljevic two minutes into the fourth quarter. A Shaun Bruce three-pointer then stretched the Kings lead to nine and things were getting tight up the other end for the Snakes.
The Taipans were just out of gas after their hectic schedule and being short on bodies. After a rough series, it was Vasiljevic who landed two three-point bombs to push the Kings lead out to 14 and they claimed the Game 3 win by 15.
The Kings did well to limit the Taipans to 64 points on 31 per cent shooting with 8/32 from beyond the arc.
Justin Simon's defensive performance to limit DJ Hogg to nine points on 3/8 was crucial in Sydney now advancing to the Championship Series with a chance to go back-to-back.
It was yet another brave showing from a Taipans team who defied all the odds this season under Coach of the Year Adam Forde to still be a chance of reaching the Championship Series during the fourth quarter of the deciding Game 3.
It was a tough offensive afternoon, though, for the Snakes outside of Ayre's 20 points with 4/8 three-point shooting and the 17 points and 12 boards from Waardenburg.
Hogg had just the nine points on 3/8 while Tahjere McCall had a tough afternoon with nine points on 3/17 shooting, with all but three of those attempts coming from inside the arc.
Bul Kuol finished with four points, eight rebounds and two assists, Lat Mayen three points and four rebounds, and Majok Deng two points and a rebound.
Head Coach Adam Forde:
"Naturally it's disappointing and not in the sense of anything else that nine teams are going to be feeling this level of disappointment with your season coming to an end. I'm proud of the boys, it's been a hell of a schedule and a hell of a run especially with this fifth game in 10 days. We ran off adrenaline at the start but you could see with how that fourth quarter went, we were just missing layups, missing foul shots and the execution side of it was good, we just missed bunnies and had turnovers. It was just the signs of fatigue so I'm not disappointed in how we played, just naturally the season has come to an end so you feel a bit disappointed.
Injured Taipans Star Keanu Pinder:
"Honestly not being out there hurt more than I thought it would because I was very close to coming back. I felt like if we had won this game I would have been able to come back to play the Grand Final so I was really looking forward to that, and I was ready for that. I wanted to play the last game honestly but they didn’t let me obviously so it's all good. I'm very upset about it and I'm just going to deal with it in my own time I'll be alright."