Chris Smith has shot Brisbane clear of Cairns, the Bullets winning 84-79 in a clunky NBL derby that exorcised some "demons" despite another fourth-quarter collapse.
The Queensland rivalry remained lit in the teams' first encounter since Bullets star and NBA champion Aron Baynes was hit with a five-game suspension for his altercation with Taipans' players and coach Adam Forde in early October.
Cairns-raised Baynes (eight points, three rebounds) had an early impact in a physical encounter and flashed his Bullets badge to jeering fans as he left the court following a head knock late in the contest.
But it was Brisbane import Smith (17 points) who rose above the grind with four-of-seven triples to help snap a three-game losing streak.
All of those defeats were caused by wobbly final quarters, and the yips were there again after nearly two weeks between games.
Brisbane scored just seven points in the final six minutes to limp home.
Smith did his best to stop the rot, drilling a triple to begin the fourth quarter and help build a 20-point lead and some breathing space.
It was needed as sloppy turnovers -- 19 in all -- kept Cairns interested and a Tahjere McCall (29 points) three-point play made it an eight-point game with two minutes remaining.
The Taipans standout drilled a triple and forced another turnover to make it a three-point game with 16 seconds on the clock.
The ball spilled loose after Brisbane's sloppy inbound pass but rolled out off a Cairns foot, Nathan Sobey (14 points, six rebounds) finding possession from the restart to seal the game at the line.
Brisbane coach Justin Schueller said the boos for Baynes should be seen as a compliment, acknowledging the second-round incident had ignited a rivalry between "two great teams".
"We felt like we needed to get through one of these again, with those little demons in the back of the mind," he said of his team's final-quarter nerves.
"Now we've gone through it we can hit the ground running."
Cairns' Swedish top-20 NBA draft prospect Bobi Klintman was active early, a steal and dunk followed by another highlight-reel slam creating some rare fluency.
The Taipans' offence dried up in a 12-point third quarter but then it was Brisbane's turn to freeze as they staggered towards a much-needed victory to move to 6-7.
Cairns slipped to 4-7 ahead of Sunday's away clash with Melbourne United, while Brisbane host Illawarra later that day to complete the round.
Forde credited Brisbane for banking points every time they turned the ball over and admitted "panic" set in when Cairns' offence slowed in the second half.
"We cut it to one possession but we've got work to do," Taipans forward Sam Waardenburg said.
"But I trust in the guys, trust in Fordey that we'll be able to turn this thing around."