Hungry Jack's NBL
Kings Stand Tall to Level Grand Final Series 1-1
The depth and quality of the Sydney Kings shone through to win their first final in Perth in 17 years and it just happened to be at a near empty RAC Arena as their stars came to play in the 97-83 Game 2 victory.
The Kings found themselves playing catch up after losing Game 1 to the Wildcats on Sunday at Qudos Bank Arena despite having earned home court advantage having sat atop the NBL table all season long.
Then there was the drama. With coronavirus influence everything on a global scale, the decision was made on Friday afternoon to play the rest of the Grand Final Series behind closed doors, with only team staff, game night production team, family and friends, and media allowed in the buildings.
So suddenly the Wildcats went from having their 13,000 strong Red Army behind them to having a couple of hundred of their nearest and dearests. The rest of the game night production from a Wildcats was kept similar, but it was somewhat eery having that take place in a just about empty stadium.
What impact that had on the game itself will never be fully known, but what did happen was that despite Bryce Cotton's best efforts, the Kings were on top most of the way.
They then sealed the deal with 16 of the game's final 21 points on the way to the 14-point triumph to level the best-of-five series at a win apiece. Game 3 will be back at Qudos Bank Arena on Sunday.
Andrew Bogut once again dominated his centre battle with Miles Plumlee. He had 17 points and 10 rebounds in the first half, finished with 19 and 13 to be huge in the win. Plumlee, meanwhile, struggled for six points, five rebounds, three assists and three turnovers in just 15 minutes.
The key to Sydney all season has been their depth of standout performers. That was again on show in the Grand Final. Bogut got great help while Cotton didn’t get enough for Perth.
Back in the city he started to build his reputation, Kevin Lisch was brilliant for Sydney with 19 points including 3/6 from deep. It could well have been Bogut and Lisch's best games of #NBL20.
Then there was Jae'Sean Tate. In a fascinating power forward battle, he edged Nick Kay with 20 points on 7/9 shooting including a perfect 3/3 from deep despite foul trouble limiting him to 24 minutes.
Brad Newley added nine points, five rebounds and five assists too.
Kings coach Will Weaver was happy with plenty about his team's effort but to again come out on top in offensive boards was especially important.
"It sure beats the alternative. We obviously built a bit of a margin on the back of some better three-point shooting and we did a better job at limiting Cotton and White's touches for them," Weaver said.
"That gave us a chance to get into transition a little bit more frequently which is good for us. But I continue to highlight the offensive rebounding game (13-10), that seems to be the key anytime you play these guys.
"You have to win it or get close to winning it to have a good chance beating them. It wasn’t as good the other night, but they made a better effort on the O-boards so relatively to how hard a contest it is, and to legally box somebody out, that's a real challenge both teams are facing. There's lots to like and lots to improve on."
Cotton did what he could for Perth with 27 points, five rebounds and three assists, but Sydney would have been content to hold him to 18 shots and for no one else to catch fire for the home team.
Kay still had 17 points and seven rebounds with Clint Steindl scoring 12 points. But last year's Grand Final MVP Terrico White had just five points on 2/6 shooting.
Wildcats coach Trevor Gleeson was disappointed especially with his team's defensive effort.
"They played better than we did," Gleeson said.
"Really it was our defence. To give 31 points up in the first quarter with three or four and-ones, they were scoring pretty much at their will and had 57 in the first half. It was really disappointing that we didn’t put a stamp on the game defensively.
"I thought we had enough points going into half-time with 51, but our defence meant we couldn’t get stops when we needed to, and Tate and Bogut got almost 40 points between them. That's a big load that we didn’t do a good job on."
It was all an inside game early with Andrew Bogut again aggressive offensively to start proceedings. He once more asserted his dominance over Miles Plumlee with a couple of early buckets but Nick Kay was matching him up the other end.
A Bogut three-point play and Brad Newley triple saw Sydney up 17-9 before Bryce Cotton got his first five points five minutes in. But again Bogut ended the first term strongly with five more points and Sydney was up 31-27.
Bogut then stretched Sydney's lead to six to start the second quarter but it was Cotton's time to make a statement. He did so with a trademark four-point play, added another three-point play and scores were all square.
But with Bogut sitting, Xavier Cooks stood tall helping Sydney to a 6-0 run and then Bogut returned to keep scoring and he had Plumlee totally off his game, his first half summed up with a poor fumble on a pass from Damian Martin that led to a turnover.
Plumlee at least did score twice late in the first half and had a huge block without Bogut out there, but the Kings retained control at 57-51 at the break despite Clint Steindl's buzzer-beating three.
Kay and Cotton were trying to keep Perth close to start the second half, but when Bogut threw down a massive tomahawk slam with Tate and Shaun Bruce following up with triples the visitors were in control up by eight.
But as usual, Cotton had the last say of the quarter with the final seven points to pull Perth within three by three quarter-time.
Damian Martin hit a second huge three in as many Grand Final games for Perth early in the fourth, but Sydney continued to have all the answers.
Ware hit his third bucket of the night, Newley drilled another from downtown, Lisch hit from mid-range and with Tate again unstoppable inside, they were back up by seven with Trevor Gleeson calling for time with 6:41 to play.
Sydney still scored the next four points for an 8-0 run and an 11-point edge with the Wildcats scoreless for almost five minutes until Steindl drilled a three to bring them back within eight.
There'd be no fightback, though, and who knows if that was because there were no 13,000 screaming Red Army fans to urge them on. But the Kings certainly enjoyed their time out there, Lisch hitting the dagger three to start a 6-0 run on the way to the 14-point win.
NBL GRAND FINAL SERIES GAME 2
PERTH WILDCATS 83 (Cotton 27, Kay 17, Steindl 12)
SYDNEY KINGS 97 (Tate 20, Lisch 19, Bogut 19)
Best-of-five series is tied at 1-1