After a sluggish start to NBL23, Aron Baynes’ hot start on Monday night inspired the Brisbane Bullets to right their wrongs on the road.
The star centre found his groove in the first quarter against the Illawarra Hawks. While he has enjoyed a serviceable start in his return to Australia, this was a statement game.
Baynes made his first minutes on the court count, ending the first term with five points, four rebounds and two assists. He would only make his mark on the game further from there.
The 35-year-old finished with a double-double, with 17 points at 62 per cent from the field, and 14 rebounds. He was particularly strong on the defensive glass, with 11 defensive boards.
Illawarra had no answer for the big man at both ends. Neither Sam Froling or Mangok Mathiang could find their footing in the match-up, as Baynes dominated the key.
The Bullets constantly looked to Baynes and the returning DJ Mitchell inside, particularly early, as they took advantage of their size against the Hawks’ bigs.
“He got rolling,” coach James Duncan said post-game.
“[Baynes] was a real inside presence for us, which is what we need. You’d have to ask Aron, but I think he’s finding his legs a little bit more.
“The guys made an effort to get him the ball in areas where he can be super effective. He’s coming off some time from playing.
“Patience is not something the world really has at times, [but] guys are coming back from serious injuries, and it takes them some time to find their rhythm.
“Other guys were chipping in here and there. Sobes [Nathan Sobey] almost had a triple-double… Jase [Cadee] came to play, which he’s been doing the last few games.
“In the fourth, Tanner’s [Krebs] is diving on the floor. Road game, [we’re] struggling to get over the hump, that’s what you need.”
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After a winless start to the season, putting up a 26-point win against a fellow struggling team has the chance to set the Bullets on the right path.
Having contributors across the court was vital to the Bullets’ success.
Four of the five starters hit double scoring figures, with Jason Cadee (17 at 61 per cent), Nathan Sobey (11 at 23 per cent) and DJ Mitchell (10 points at 44 per cent) joining Baynes. Tyler Johnson also contributed 11 points off the bench.
Duncan made no excuses for the poor start to the season, but sees the belief now back in his group.
“It’s been a long time coming. Credit to the boys for continuing to believe and fighting through this difficult time,” the coach said.
“There’s been plenty of games where we’ve been pretty close, and just couldn’t get over the hump. There’s a two minute stretch [in games] where we couldn’t execute.
“The guys were determined tonight. I came into the locker room and they were talking about it, end of the third quarter they were talking about it.
“Our schedule has been difficult, guys have been coming back from major injuries. These games that we’ve been playing, we’ve been in them.
“Tonight was just a different story.”
Many players, including Sobey, were coming into the Bullets line-up off the back of fairly extensive injury setbacks.
The Boomers star played 18 minutes in the Round 1 loss to the Perth Wildcats, but is starting to find his legs again, spending 30 minutes on court both against the Hawks and South East Melbourne Phoenix.
While the results weren’t falling, he says they were always going to move past it.
“The belief was always there, but once you start stringing losses together you start pinpointing everything you’re doing bad,” Sobey added.
“It kind of can get pretty nasty with the film you’re watching… it all comes out, all the little stuff, even if we are doing lots of good stuff.
“I think the coaches that have done a great job in showing us the good stuff in the bad times. The group’s been pretty level-headed with everything that’s been going on with the zero and five start.
“Hopefully we can take this on board and move forward and learn from it.”
The Bullets and the Hawks will face off again, this time in Brisbane at Nissan Arena, on Thursday October 27.
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