Cairns Taipans have inflicted further misery on the struggling Brisbane Bullets after thoroughly outclassing their Queensland rivals with a lopsided 107-81 victory to remain in the race for an automatic semi-final berth.
The Taipans made it seven straight wins over the Bullets in Thursday night's clash at Nissan Arena to boost their win-loss record to 13-7 as they strive for a top-two finish and a guaranteed playoff spot.
Cairns used a 31-19 second-quarter surge to build their largest halftime lead of the season then cruised through the second half with the home side providing little resistance as they crashed to their 10th loss in the last 12 games.
With league MVP candidate Keanu Pinder missing a third straight game with an ankle injury, Sam Waardenburg produced the best performance of his young career after compiling 24 points and eight rebounds while DJ Hogg (23 points) and Ben Ayre (20 points) also thrived.
Taipans coach Adam Forde missed the game through illness but assistant Kerry Williams stepped into the role and ensured Cairns maintained their perfect record against Brisbane since Forde's appointment at the start of the 2021/22 season.
Williams enjoyed the opportunity to fill in as head coach but felt the leadership of Tahjere McCall played a major role in keeping the team focused as they won a third straight game without Pinder.
"(McCall's) been our on-court leader, he's been our emotional leader and, he's been able to keep this group together. The group is just fun, you know what I mean? Like, it's just a fun group to be around," Williams said after the win.
McCall drew the ire of a few Brisbane opponents with his tenacious play during a fiery opening half but the American import was more concerned with his team continuing to build on their recent success.
"I told the guys, the next step of our team is when you up putting teams away, that's what championship teams do. That's what winning teams do," McCall said after finishing with 16 points, six rebounds, six assists and five steals.
Outside of a game-high 32-point effort from Tyler Johnson, it was a forgettable night for a Bullets squad that looked dispirited at times, unable to keep pace with the ball movement and defensive energy of a more motivated and hungrier Taipans unit.
"The most disappointing thing for me is the lack of energy, the lack of attention to scout detail and the lack of attention to how we want to try and control the game," Bullets coach Greg Vanderjagt said after their third loss in a row.
"We just played right into their hands, played at their tempo, played at their pace and allowed them to dictate terms."