CAIRNS, AUSTRALIA – JANUARY 31: A Taipans fan shows his support during the round 18 NBL match between the Cairns Taipans and the Illawarra Hawks at the Cairns Convention Centre on January 31, 2020 in Cairns, Australia. (Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)
CAIRNS, AUSTRALIA – JANUARY 31: A Taipans fan shows his support during the round 18 NBL match between the Cairns Taipans and the Illawarra Hawks at the Cairns Convention Centre on January 31, 2020 in Cairns, Australia. (Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

Snakes different side to earlier outfit: Flinn

If anyone can explain and understand the Cairns Taipans' rise and further rise over the last few months, it is Illawarra Hawks coach Matt Flinn.

Flinn's Hawks, in his first year in charge, will claim the NBL wooden spoon, the dreaded award handed to the Snakes last year.

However, the battles between the league's two regional clubs this season have typified Cairns's improving campaign.

 

 

Taipans coach Mike Kelly salutes his players following the Round 18 NBL match between the Cairns Taipans and the Illawarra Hawks at the Cairns Convention Centre in Cairns, Friday, January 31, 2020. (AAP Image/Brian Cassey)
Taipans coach Mike Kelly salutes his players following the Round 18 NBL match between the Cairns Taipans and the Illawarra Hawks at the Cairns Convention Centre in Cairns, Friday, January 31, 2020. (AAP Image/Brian Cassey)

 

 

They have gone from starting the season at 0-3, battling their way to being 2-6 not long after, and now, within a few weeks of the finals, the Snakes have risen to a spectacular 15-10, good enough for third on the ladder.

Inside those first eight games of the season, when they were 2-6, Flinn's Hawks knocked over Cairns on three occasions.

They could not beat anyone else, but they certainly had the FNQ club's measure all three times.

Since their last meeting, Mike Kelly's squad have gone 13-4 to cement their 2019-20 finals position.

 

 

CAIRNS, AUSTRALIA – JANUARY 31: Taipans coach Mike Kelly looks on during the round 18 NBL match between the Cairns Taipans and the Illawarra Hawks at the Cairns Convention Centre on January 31, 2020 in Cairns, Australia. (Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)
CAIRNS, AUSTRALIA – JANUARY 31: Taipans coach Mike Kelly looks on during the round 18 NBL match between the Cairns Taipans and the Illawarra Hawks at the Cairns Convention Centre on January 31, 2020 in Cairns, Australia. (Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

 

 

Late on Friday night, following the Round 18 contest, Kelly did not want to look too far back over the last few months as a journey, preferring to declare he and his group have a game-by-game attitude that keeps them locked in, and winning of course.

Flinn, however, was keen to detail the differences in the Snakes team from their three first meetings to their fourth and final one on Friday, when Illawarra were blown from the floor.

And, Flinn says, do not just be comfortable making the finals - the Snakes can go all the way.

"They are a different team now to the one we played at the start of the year, as are we," Flinn said.

"Mate, they can win the championship, there is no reason why they cannot, and they have all the pieces.

"Mike has done an incredible job.

"One thing I watched from last season to this season is the balance Mike has got on his roster; you get three imports who look to me like they all like each other and like playing together.

"And, everyone else has found their roles and I think they can go deep into the play-offs, as they have some pretty potent people in the right areas."

 

 

CAIRNS, AUSTRALIA – JANUARY 31: Taipans fans show their support during the round 18 NBL match between the Cairns Taipans and the Illawarra Hawks at the Cairns Convention Centre on January 31, 2020 in Cairns, Australia. (Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)
CAIRNS, AUSTRALIA – JANUARY 31: Taipans fans show their support during the round 18 NBL match between the Cairns Taipans and the Illawarra Hawks at the Cairns Convention Centre on January 31, 2020 in Cairns, Australia. (Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

 

 

The 99-75 victory for Cairns on Friday night avoided the season sweep of the battling Hawks and locked in their finals slot with three regular season games to play.

The Snakes finish the regular season on the road, with three away games before the real stuff starts in a few weeks, starting with Adelaide on Saturday evening.

"This group is great. They lead each other, they play off each other and they can sometimes be a little loose, so I'm not always sure exactly what they are thinking," Kelly said.

"They've come out and answered the bell consistently and played hard.

"Right now we are all about competing and trying to win games to feel good about our group heading into playoffs."


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