Veteran Nate Jawai has turned back the clock to inspire Cairns Taipans to a tight 96-92 victory over Sydney Kings in the NBL Cup.
Jawai finished with 22 points at Melbourne's State Basketball Centre on Thursday, the 34-year-old collecting his highest score in more than four years to help the Taipans snap a three-game losing streak.
The Kings won three of the four quarters but a 25-13 surge in the second term helped Cairns earn their fourth win of the season.
The Taipans recovered from a slow start to lead by 10 points at halftime, with Jawai and forward Fabijan Krslovic winning the rebounding battle and finding the basket.
Casper Ware and Dejan Vasiljevic combined for 18 points in the third quarter to see the Kings regain the lead but Scott Machado (24 points) played big minutes in the final term to steer the Taipans home.
"It was a bit of a circus out there for a little while, both teams going end-to-end and then I was happy how we steadied," coach Mike Kelly said after the Taipans closed out the win.
"Good first half ... cleaner than it has been for us, a little bit of a mess in the middle and then the guys finished with some big plays."
Mirko Djeric (12 points) landed a crucial three-pointer to give Cairns a four-point lead in the closing stages while Krslovic capped the win with a steal and dunk to complete a career-best night with 15 points, 11 rebounds and three steals.
The Kings landed five of their first six three-point attempts to build a 25-16 advantage but the Taipans closed that gap to two after one quarter then powered to a 51-41 lead by halftime.
Sydney reset themselves during the main break and came out firing with a 6-0 start before hitting the front late in the third quarter.
But Jawai produced a series of low-post moves to help Cairns close the term ahead 73-67 and set up a thrilling fourth-quarter battle.
"We looked flat, we looked tired, we looked old," Kings coach Adam Forde said.
"For the most part, we were better in the second half but it's still pretty telling where our deficiencies lie."
Vasiljevic established a Kings rookie record and set a career-high with 32 points, including five-of-five from three-point range, while Ware opened the match with 12 points on four-of-five shooting on his way to a 28-point haul.
Australian Associated Press