Hungry Jack's NBL
Kings Overpower Taipans in Cairns
The Sydney Kings have opened up their 2019/20 NBL Championship assault with a gritty 79-71 win over the Cairns Taipans at Cairns Convention Centre on Friday night.
Cairns looked the better side for most of the night but the cream rose to the top in a Kings fourth-quarter defensive masterclass, holding the Snakes to just eight points in the entire frame.
Kings import Jae’Sean Tate was the fuel to Sydney’s fire, netting eight points and ripping down three strong fourth-quarter boards as the Kings inflicted a very familiar type of loss on a Taipans side that routinely let games slip at the death last season.
Arguably the league’s best two-way backcourt duo, Casper Ware and Kevin Lisch, did their thing with 21 and 18 points respectively, while reigning league MVP Andrew Bogut chipped in when he needed to with four points, 12 boards and four assists despite battling foul trouble.
And they did it without Brazilian Next Star Didi Louzada who sat out the game with a back injury.
Post-game, new Kings coach Will Weaver was pleased with the way his side won in his debut appearance in charge.
"A road win where you shoot 22 per cent from three and 58 per cent from the free throw line is one we’re proud of," he said.
"Part of what experienced players are great at, is taking things a possession at a time and focusing on what’s next."
Despite the fourth-quarter capitulation, signs are positive for Cairns as the intent to play the right way on both ends with evident.
Rookie of the Year contender Kouat Noi led his side in scoring with 14 points and 12 big boards, while imports Scott Machado (13 points, six assists, three rebounds) and Cameron Oliver (13 points, four rebounds, three assists) stuffed the stat sheet.
Taipans coach Mike Kelly said his side missed a trick down the stretch though.
"We missed some opportunities that we made for ourselves, first half and second half," Kelly said.
"We said that we wanted to attack, and these guys got into attack mode right from the start. And when we finish plays we might be kind of dangerous."
Opening night rust was felt by all in the first half, as the Snakes shot below 40 per cent and the Kings went an inexplicable 3/11 from the foul line.
Despite his personal struggles at the line (2/5), Ware topped the charts in scoring with 13 by half-time, while Lisch proved he’s ready for a big season with 10 on a perfect 4/4 shooting.
Sydney started the game like they were stuck in pre-season, but managed to keep in touch with a young, effervescent Taipans side fuelled by a strong opening-night crowd.
Last season things got stagnant on one end and they couldn’t guard a chair on the other, but the home side’s energy simply meant none of that was possible over the first 20 minutes.
As the Snakes took a 41-37 lead into half-time, no stat better illustrated their intent than the 14-0 second-chance points domination.
If a single play demonstrated Cairns’ free-spirited approach, it would have been Nate Jawai’s three-point attempt from the corner with double figures left on the shot clock in the third quarter – quite possibly a shot he has never before taken in the NBL.
At that point the Snakes were up 10, but as all good veteran sides do, the Kings had answers aplenty.
Ware and Lisch continued to launch, while the defensive uptick was noticeable.
Tate owned the middle stretch of the final term with maniacal energy plays as the visitors levelled up at 65-65 with 5:34 left in the game.
Brad Newley finished strong in transition with 3:45 left to give Sydney their first lead since early second quarter, and from there the class took over.
Cairns is back at it against the Bullets in Brisbane next Friday, while Sydney is home to Adelaide the following night.
NBL ROUND 1
CAIRNS TAIPANS 71 (Noi 14, Machado 13, Oliver 13)
SYDNEY KINGS 79 (Ware 23, Lisch 18, Tate 14)