Taipans secure finals berth with Hawks win

Cairns Taipans have locked up an NBL finals berth after blitzing Illawarra Hawks 99-75 on Friday night.

The Taipans (15-10) had lost their previous three encounters against the bottom-placed Hawks (5-20), but took care of business at the Cairns Convention Centre to lead from start to finish.

Co-captain DJ Newbill had another stellar night at the office, scoring 20 points, including four from outside the perimeter.

He was supported by fellow import Cam Oliver, who slammed home 17 points and pulled down five rebounds.

The Taipans had plenty of winners on the night, with strong contributions from Scott Machado (12 points, 10 assists), Majok Deng (12) and George Blagojevic (10).

A sold-out venue applauded for 24 seconds before the match in tribute to the late Kobe Bryant.

After trailing by 17 points at the main break, Illawarra came out strongly with an 8-0 run to force Taipans coach Mike Kelly to call a time out, but the Hawks' momentum was quickly halted as Cairns hit three from long range to extend their half-time lead.

Sensing an opportunity to boost percentage in what was their final home game of the season, the Snakes put the foot down when it mattered to crush Illawarra's spirits.

Both coaches were able to give their bench a run in the final stanza as the sting came out of the game.

"We haven't gone real deep into our bench consistently," Kelly said post-match.

"The guys who have gotten more minutes have earned them. We think about percentage as we fight for a possible finals berth and what it could mean but we are about developing the players we have and building the future for the Taipans."

The Hawks were led by reserve big man Josh Boone (19 points, 10 rebounds), while rookie Sam Froling (13) and skipper Todd Blanchfield (12) showed glimpses of form.

Illawarra coach Matt Flinn was a bitterly disappointed man after the game.

"I think that was one of our worst losses of the year," he said.

"The mindset in which we came in with, particularly at the start of the game, was not good enough at this level. They were just hungry. Credit to them."

Illawarra are back in action on Sunday against the red-hot New Zealand Breakers, who are gunning for a finals berth, while the Taipans can rest up before their road game against Adelaide next Saturday.