South East Melbourne Phoenix star Mitch Creek smashed his personal best scoring record in a game which epitomised just why he is one of the NBL’s best.
The 29-year-old got off to a roaring start and took his side with him. He scored 10 of the Phoenix’s 35 first quarter points, hitting all three of his three point attempts.
It wasn’t just him with the hot hand though – the whole squad went at 85.7 per cent for three balls in the first term, missing just one through Cam Gliddon.
The Phoenix finished at 43 per cent from the three point line, with Creek hitting six of his seven attempts.
He smashed his previous career best of 32 points from the 2019/20 season against the Cairns Taipans, in what was undoubtedly a match-winning performance.
Speaking post-match, Creek was satisfied with the scoring that both himself and his teammates were able to contribute, but saw a key deficiency in their game.
This included Xavier Munford (17 points) and Kyle Adnam (16 points) finding the bucket when it counted.
“We kept the scoreboard ticking over,” Creek said.
“Last week our offence sucked and our defence was awesome. This time our defence sucked and our offence was awesome. At least we’ve got both. If we can put them both together we can be a bit happier.”
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Part of the defensive struggles came from the less than ideal court time for Chinese import Zhou Qi.
The big man found himself in foul trouble early, with two personals before the first break. This became three before the end of the half, prompting coach Simon Mitchell to get Dane Pineau into the game.
Zhou finished the game with three rebounds, two blocks and a steal, but was the only player in the team to register a block.
This came to the fore in the third quarter, where the Breakers were able to stretch the floor with little resistance.
They managed to hit four of their nine three point attempts, including two from Finn Delany, who Zhou was putting plenty of attention into in the first half.
“We’ve got to be able to dig in a little bit better than we did tonight,” Mitchell said.
“I think we’ve got a mindset this year… we’ve just got standards that we’ve set around the place that we just can’t live with. We will come out with the video tomorrow with things we don’t like, but I’m going to tip the hat, there was some damn good shot making from [Creek].
“Finn [Delany] made great shots in the first half, Hugo [Besson] made some tough shots in the second half, Yanni [Wetzell] made a great jumper with a left hand from about seven feet. You just have to tip the hat sometimes, it was a really high level offensive performance at times.”
Testing the depth
While Xavier Munford starred in last week’s win against the Breakers with 27 points and seven rebounds, and tonight it was Creek, the Phoenix have some of the best contributors off the bench in the league.
None embody that more than last year’s Best Sixth Man nominee Kyle Adnam.
Despite being one of the smallest men on court, Adnam played well above his height on Friday night. He was driving to the rim and hitting jump shots over Yanni Wetzell and Rasmus Bach, and even picked up two boards.
The captain was a consistent scoring threat, scoring five in the first term, five in the second, four in the third and two in the last.
When the game was hanging in the balance late with barely a bucket separating the two sides, Adnam pounced on a missed free throw from the Breakers to distribute the dime to Creek for his record-breaking three ball.
And it wasn’t just him either. Izayah Le’Afa continued to once again rotate floor duties with Munford and used his elite passing ability to create play with two assists.
Cam Gliddon built into the game late, picking up four boards in the third when the Phoenix were most under attack offensively.
“That’s the biggest difference for this team,” Mitchell said of his side’s depth.
“We’ve got a lot of confidence in each other, a lot of confidence that if one player’s out, the next guy’s in is just as capable.
“I thought X [Munford] had an excellent game. I thought X was just as good as he was last game, and Mitch was just as good as he was last game. It’s just who has the ball in their hands.”
Outside of the win, it was also Reuben Te Rangi’s 250th NBL appearance. He didn’t feature heavily on Friday night, with just two assists and a rebound in his 11 minutes on court.
Attention now turns to Sunday’s Throwdown with Melbourne United before an extended roadtrip.
The Phoenix will take on the Sydney Kings, Illawarra Hawks, Adelaide 36ers, and Cairns Taipans on the road before returning to Melbourne to host the Tasmania JackJumpers at the State Basketball Centre on Monday, January 10.
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