Hawks outlast fighting Taipans in NBL

Fraser Barton |

Illawarra have reignited their push for a top-four finish in the NBL with a crucial 87-81 win over Cairns at home, souring the electric return of Taipans star Scott Machado.

Machado was playing his first game in two months following a foot injury, but came off the bench to scored 16 points in limited minutes and fire his team back into a contest that went down to the wire.

Xavier Rathan-Mayes’ cool head kept the Hawks (7-6) ticking with three of their stars in foul trouble through the fourth quarter.

Rathan-Mayes’ effort didn’t standout on the box score, but his tough lay-up through contact with 10 seconds remaining put the contest out of sight after playing the primary ball handler in the final minutes. 

Duop Reath was enormous in the paint for his side as the Hawks aggressively attacked the interior early.

He registered his second double-double of the season to finish with 18 points and 11 boards while teammate Justinian Jessup had 18 points on 5-9 from the field.

The Hawks were coming off back to back losses and coach Brian Goorjian was in no doubt of the importance of the win to their playoff hopes as they moved into the top four.

“I kind of felt that last game this is the one, and then having that winning position and going home it was hard to sleep, it’s like wow now there’s no way from here,” Goorjian said.

“Everybody was aware of the importance of this game. It was just a must.”

For the Taipans (3-5) it was an opportunity gone missing as they shot their lowest field goal percentage of the year, finishing 35 per cent from the floor.

But coach Adam Forde drew positives from Machado’s first game back and the amount of games remaining for his team.

“We’re still early in the season, all teams have played half their games already and we’re fortunate enough that one of the silver linings with the delays of COVID we’ve only played – today was our eighth game,” Forde said.

“The confidence I get is it helps us build a bit of momentum, you don’t want to play catch up for too long or you’ll find yourself out of touch.

“We knew how to get it done without him (Machado), but now that he’s back, let’s really get it done with him.”

Cairns will be back in action Monday against New Zealand in Queensland’s north, before facing the Hawks again February 18.