Hungry Jack's NBL
Kings Find Swagger to Overpower Phoenix
Sydney Kings regained their swagger with one of their best team performances of the season to beat a dangerous South East Melbourne Phoenix 110-98 at Qudos Bank Arena on Monday night.
After three losses in their past four games – including a shock 87-80 loss to Brisbane on Saturday night - and their #NBL20 competition lead under threat, the Kings needed to make a statement against a potential top-four rival.
And it wasn’t as much a statement as an exclamation mark as the league leaders regained their offensive punch.
Christmas lunch will taste a lot better for Will Weaver and his players knowing Monday night’s performance was reminiscent of the Kings’ early season form that produced 11 wins from their first 12 games.
Sydney’s ball movement was at times breathtaking as the Kings produced a season-high 29 assists.
The Kings only had 12 assists against Brisbane, their second lowest of the season, but almost surpassed that in the first quarter against the Phoenix with nine on their way to 16 for the half.
Sydney shared the load at both ends of the court, with Daniel Kickert (18 points), Brad Newley (16), Deshon Taylor (15), Jae'Sean Tate (14, five rebounds) and Xavier Cooks (nine points, nine rebounds, three assists and three blocks) all prominent.
Casper Ware (nine points, seven assists) and Shaun Bruce (12 points, five assists) did well splitting the point guard duties as well.
Coming off the bench, Taylor turned the tide in the third quarter with three of his five threes when Phoenix had closed the gap to five points.
The Fresno State product, who was cut by Adelaide at the last minute only to be called up by the Kings as an injury replacement for Kevin Lisch, was an unlikely hero for the Sydney with his heroics from deep.
But Taylor's performance didn’t surprise coach Weaver.
"This man can shoot, he shot 40 per cent in college. This man’s a shooter," Weaver said.
Taylor said it was easy to fit into a side like the Kings.
"Everybody believes in my shot, I just have to go out there and believe in my shot as well," he said.
"Coming into this team it was different, they really brought me in, so I felt like it was an easy adjustment coming to this group."
Quicksilver guard John Roberson (25 points), Kyle Adnam (24) and Mitch Creek (16) led the scoring for the Phoenix, although Creek was held scoreless in the second half.
Phoenix coach Simon Mitchell praised his team’s tenacity but said they conceded too many points against an 'excellent' opposition.
"Scoring’s not been an issue for us since we put this squad together," said Mitchell, who lamented the absence of injured guard and noted defender Adam Gibson.
"It’s a bit of a pick your poison against Sydney and it always is. They keep bringing those long athletic bodies and they keep attacking the rim and attacking the paint
"Their efficiency in the paint was amazing tonight, and then we started to defend the paint a little better and the bench comes in and starts knocking down a three-ball.
"We fought and that’s a good character trait that we have, but we’ve got to be a little bit better defensively."
Sydney led a free-scoring and entertaining first quarter 29-27, with Phoenix’s Adnam, Ben Madgen and Dane Pineau all scoring against their old club in the opening term.
The Kings started the second quarter with a 9-0 run, including a second alley-oop bucket to Andrew Bogut from a Ware lob.
By half-time the Kings’ lead had blown out to 59-47 on an incredible 65 per cent shooting from the field and 50 per cent from deep.
But the Phoenix wouldn’t go away and, led by Roberson’s sharp shooting from the land of plenty and 11 third quarter points, cut the lead to five with 4:35 to play.
Enter Taylor with three straight threes to regain the ascendancy for the Kings in the term. A Tate desperation defensive play and alley-oop capped off a brilliant last four minutes for the home side who shot out to an 88-71 lead at three quarter-time.
Next round the Kings host a blockbuster top-two clash against defending champions Perth Wildcats on Saturday and then travel to Wollongong on New Year’s Eve to tackle the Illawarra Hawks.
Despite losing both of their Round 12 matches, Phoenix remains in the dogfight for fourth spot, a win outside the top four. They host the Hawks on Saturday before a potential season-defining clash away to Cairns on New Year’s Eve.
NBL ROUND 12
SYDNEY KINGS 110 (Kickert 18, Newley 16, Taylor 15)
SOUTH EAST MELBOURNE PHOENIX 98 (Roberson 25, Adnam 24, Creek 16)