Sharp shooting by Mirko Djeric has helped bottom of the table Cairns Taipans pull off a stunning 94-87 NBL upset win over third-place South East Melbourne Phoenix.
Djeric shot 4-of-6 from three-point range in the final quarter at Cairns Pop-Up Arena as the Taipans reeled in a 16-point deficit to snap an eight game losing streak and deliver a wake-up call to the Phoenix ahead of the finals.
The Taipans weren’t supposed to play again in Cairns this season after completing their last home game for 2020-21 on Wednesday night – a 101-96 loss to Brisbane Bullets.
What was supposed to be the Phoenix’s home clash at John Cain Arena, initially scheduled for Saturday, was relocated on Friday night after Melbourne’s recent COVID-19 outbreak.
And long suffering Taipans fans were sure glad it was after a gutsy Cairns provided them a surprise farewell gift.
Djeric finished with 16 points while Majok Deng (22pts), Jordan Ngatai (14pts), bench weapon Tad Dufelmeier (14pts) and import Scott Machado (13pts) also contributed in the absence of young gun Mojave King who failed to back up from Wednesday’s loss.
“It (the win) feels really good. It is now the last game at home of the season. We wanted to thank the crowd for coming out even though it was a bad season for us,” Djeric said.
Phoenix (18-15 record) remain third despite lowly Cairns (8-26) derailing their plans to seal a club-record fifth straight win ahead of the finals.
Phoenix (103.67 per cent) appear all but assured of a top-four finish and a maiden finals campaign with three games left thanks to their superior points percentage.
Compared to their playoff rivals, fourth-place Illawarra Hawks (18-15 record) sit at 99.93 per cent, No.5-ranked Sydney Kings (16-17) at 100.56 and sixth-place Brisbane (15-17) at 96.67.
But Phoenix coach Simon Mitchell wanted his side to “harden up” as they brace for yet another schedule change after being over-run in front of a hostile Cairns crowd.
Phoenix are next scheduled to host Brisbane on Wednesday but Mitchell said that was up in the air.
“It feels like we have been on the end of a lot of re-scheduling but they are things you can’t control when it comes to COVID,” Mitchell said.
“If we are up here for another home game or in Brisbane for another home game we are going to have to harden up.
“We were given a cauldron to play in tonight. We have to get battle tested on the road and these situations will only help us.”
Yanni Wetzell had a career-high 25 points along with seven rebounds for the visiting team while Mitch Creek (13pts) and import Keifer Sykes (12pts, seven assists) also stood up.