Less than two days after a stunning last-gasp win over NBL leaders Perth, the Sydney Kings racked up a fourth straight victory with Sunday’s convincing 83-68 defeat of NSW rivals the Illawarra Hawks at WIN Entertainment Centre.
The Hawks had gone to great efforts to build up the game as their inaugural Indigenous themed contest as they wore specially designed jerseys and it loomed as a big game for both teams – Illawarra to keep building some momentum and Sydney to keep its winning run going.
As it turned out, the Kings led at every change, boosting their record to 9-4 and remaining in second spot on the ladder heading into the all-important Christmas period.
Two-time NBL MVP Kevin Lisch (16 points) returned to the ‘Gong and was a standout for Sydney, while American forward David Wear, who hit the clutch game-winner against Perth, and Brad Newley each added 13.
“We’re hungry and we can see so many areas we can get better at, and the season is still really young,” Lisch said.
“The expectations won’t change for us because we’ve already set really high standards for ourselves.”
Former NBA star Andrew Bogut shrugged off a quiet opening quarter to finish with 10 points, 15 rebounds and four blocks to have a significant impact.
The Kings face four crucial games over the coming weeks, taking on last-placed Cairns in Far North Queensland on Thursday before hosting titleholders Melbourne United on Sunday.
They have a home game against Brisbane on December 29 and return to Wollongong on January 5 for a rematch with the Hawks.
“We are really hard to beat if we’re holding teams in the 60s,” Kings coach Andrew Gaze said.
“If we can defend and always have our defence as insurance for a bad shooting night, then we’re always going to be in the game.”
Sydney led 18-17 at quarter-time and 36-33 at half-time before stretching the margin to eight heading into the final period.
They were ahead by as many as 15 and kept the home team at arm’s length down the stretch.
Playing their second game in less than 48 hours with a cross country trip thrown in, the Kings came out firing, taking a 15-9 lead on Daniel Kickert’s three midway through the opening period.
But the final five minutes of the quarter became a grind and scoring dried up at both ends of the court.
The Hawks clawed their way back, but both teams were an identical 7/18 from the floor and Sydney scratched out an 18-17 quarter-time lead.
The Kings were held scoreless for the opening four minutes of the second period before Wear and Lisch broke the drought with back to back triples to lock it up at 24 apiece.
Illawarra kept fighting for everything at the defensive end, pulling ahead by six before the visitors responded with a 12-3 run to lead 36-33 at half-time.
Lisch and Wear combined for 17 points, while Conklin and Jett had a collective 16.
The Kings matched the home team’s defensive intensity throughout the third period, building a 62-54 lead with a quarter remaining.
The Hawks typically kept fighting but were out-classed by a team whose confidence seems to grow each week.
Illawarra missed a chance to grab a share of fourth spot, slipping to 6-8 for the season. Their next game is against New Zealand on Friday.
“We were defending well and rebounding well and doing all the things we had to do, but we went away from the game plan in the second half and you can’t do that against a team with as much talent and experience they’ve got,” Illawarra coach Rob Beveridge said.
“Defensively they did a great job and the tempo we played at just wasn’t there. They were too good in the half-court for us. The guys have come along in leaps and bounds but right now we’re just not mentally tough enough.”
NBL ROUND 9
SYDNEY KINGS 83 (Lisch 16, Newley 13, Wear 13)
ILLAWARRA HAWKS 68 (Blanchfield 12, Jett 12, Conklin 9, Grida 9)