Third-placed Cairns have withstood another fourth-quarter comeback from South East Melbourne to record their seventh NBL win in eight games.
The Phoenix recovered from a slow start on Sunday at Melbourne's State Basketball Centre to lead by five points nearing halftime, before the Taipans outscored them 23-5 either side of the main break to take the upper hand.
But after leading by 14 points heading into the final quarter, South East Melbourne roared home with a Mitch Creek dunk cutting the margin to two with 90 seconds to play.
But DJ Newbill scored on a lay-up and Majok Deng nailed a three-pointer to secure the Taipans' 14th victory of the season.
Coach Mike Kelly was pleased his squad held on after building what appeared to be a match-winning lead in the third quarter.
"In the fourth quarter, we needed to step it up because they gave us their best shot and it took a little while to settle and answer that," Kelly said.
Scott Machado (24 points, eight assists) and Newbill (23 points, seven assists, six rebounds) led the way for Cairns while Deng added 20.
Creek scored a career-high 32 points but it was not enough as the Phoenix dropped their fourth game in a row to effectively end their semi-final hopes.
Defensive lapses early proved fatal for the Phoenix but coach Simon Mitchell was proud of the fight his team put up in the fourth quarter.
"It's almost like the moments of desperation bring out what we need and we've got to learn to get there from the get-go when the ball gets tossed," Mitchell said.
Cairns came out firing as they connected on eight of their first nine shots, including three from beyond the arc, to open up an early 23-14 advantage.
But with Ben Madgen on target from distance and Dan Trist making an impact off the bench, the Phoenix drew level at 31-31 after Kyle Adnam closed the first quarter with a triple.
Adnam added another three-pointer to open the second period as the home side grabbed their first lead of the game, while their defence restricted Cairns' potent attack for much of the quarter.
The hosts were within sight of taking a handy lead into halftime, but the Taipans closed the second quarter on a 14-5 run, Machado drilling three triples for Cairns to edge ahead 55-51.
The Taipans kept rolling after halftime with a 9-0 start, Machado featuring with his fifth triple of the game, while some trademark strong finishing down low from Nate Jawai in his 150th NBL game ensured the visitors went into the fourth period ahead 86-72.
With their season on the line, the Phoenix scored the first nine points of the quarter and managed to cut the gap to one but fell short of a crucial comeback victory.
Australian Associated Press