Puppeteer Gordie is pulling right strings

BASKETBALL

Wollongong coach Gordie McLeod likened the NBL’s weekly battles to a children’s board game, but was one proud man after Saturday night’s 82-79 road win over Cairns.

The Hawks overcame a 13-point half-time deficit after trailing by 16 in the second quarter.

They won the third period 27-10 and denied the home team’s desperate challenge to regain control in the fourth.

Wollongong (6-9) have won five of their past eight games and moved into the top four for the first time this season, until Sydney stunned the Adelaide 36ers yesterday afternoon.

McLeod didn’t approve of the lack of passion in the Hawks’ first-half display.

But he couldn’t have been happier with their wholehearted effort in the second half.

‘‘We just ground it out,’’ he said.

‘‘That was the really pleasing thing ... that the guys found a way to get over the line.

‘‘The Taipans had us on a string up to half-time.

‘‘They were just playing us like puppets and had us doing whatever they wanted. We had to find a way to come back.’’

Find a way back they did.

Wollongong made more than 50 per cent of their shots over the final two quarters and played with more resolve and purpose than their opponents when the game was tight.

They also worked much harder to out-rebound the Taipans and clicked defensively.

‘‘At half-time we spoke about laying the platform with our defence, because they’d got way too much possession and second-chance points from offensive rebounds,’’ McLeod said.

‘‘The guys came out in the third with a really good defensive effort, and then we started to get flowing at the offensive end of the floor.

‘‘We had good contributions and were able to move the ball and get some guys shots in positions we wanted.’’

After languishing in the bottom half of the ladder all season, Wollongong are pushing hard for the club’s third top-four finish in five years.

They host Cairns in the third of four regular-season meetings this Sunday and have a relatively favourable draw over the second half of the season.

But the Hawks know any slip could prove costly.

He said they cannot turn up and let Cairns dominate the game early, or they will be in for a long night.

‘‘You look at how close the competition is and it’s like snakes and ladders. You get a win and you’re up the ladder. You get a loss and you’re back down again.

‘‘That’s how good the league is. People don’t appreciate or understand how hard it is to get a win.’’

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