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Lisch game-winner sinks plucky Snakes

Kevin Lisch drained a clutch step-back jumper in the final second to lift the Sydney Kings to a dramatic 79-77 victory over the Cairns Taipans in a fiery clash on Monday night at Qudos Bank Arena. Lisch’s heroics closed the curtain on a hotly contested duel and kept the Kings in top spot with a 6-2 record. The win also avenged Saturday night’s road loss to the Taipans, who slipped to 3-4. Cairns were playing without injured import Travis Trice for the second game but went within a whisker of scalping the Kings for the second time in three days. Cairns import Fuquan Edwin had tied the score at 77-all by making one of two free throws with four seconds left before Lisch stole the show with a midrange jumpshot over Mitch McCarron off an isolation play. The Taipans had 0.3 seconds to get a shot off but Edwin’s desperate three-point heave bounced hard off the backboard. Lisch and Brad Newley finished with 15 points each for Sydney, while Cairns centre Nate Jawai was outstanding with a game-high 19 and seven rebounds. Jawai started his night with a dunk on the Taipans’ first possession but jarred his back a minute later in a tangle with Kings centre Aleks Maric and headed to the bench for treatment. When he returned with just over two minutes left in the first period, the Taipans had patiently worked their way to a 14-12 lead. They had no trouble creating open shots for each other and out-hustled the Kings under the boards, hauling in six offensive rebounds. Jawai dunked just before time ran out to extend his team’s lead to 22-16 at quarter-time. Tempers flared at the 3:44 mark of the second period when Cairns backup centre Nnanna Egwu was hit with an unsportsmanlike foul on Sydney forward Greg Whittington, which prompted Kings guard Jason Cadee to confront Egwu. Cairns forward Mark Worthington grabbed Cadee before Maric pulled Worthington away from behind. Even Taipans coach Aaron Fearne got involved, separating Worthington and Maric. When the dust settled, all four players received unsportsmanlike fouls and play resumed with Cairns up by three. It was no place for the faint-hearted, as the defensive heat and physicality intensified at both ends of the floor. Scores were locked at 36-all before Lisch nailed his team’s first successful triple in six attempts in the final seconds to put Sydney up 39-36 at half-time. The incident galvanised the Taipans and they stunned the home team’s fans by scoring the first 10 points of the third period. Sydney fought back and cut the margin to one, but the snail’s pace suited Cairns and they took a 55-54 lead into the final quarter. Neither team was prepared to budge an inch, though the Kings kept plugging away and built a four-point lead. But they had no answer for Jawai, who’s brute force repeatedly carved out room under the basket at will. Cam Gliddon and Whittington hit big shots in the final minute before Lisch answered the bell for Sydney. "It got pretty fiery," Cairns coach Aaron Fearne said of the altercation. "I didn’t appreciate Worthington getting put in a headlock and held in a headlock. It was out of line. "It was a pretty major scuffle but I’d have to go back and have a look at the video and see if it was out of line and if it was dealt with the right way. “In Australia we just kind of seem to let those things go. It’s like hey, no problem, move on" Kings coach Andrew Gaze hopes his side learned something from the event. “In hindsight it didn’t hurt us, and there’s something to be said about flying the flag and bringing the guys together, the bonding and looking after each other. But I said don’t do it again," he said. “It got the crowd involved. We don’t want to see it in our game, but a bit of emotion and passion is okay. “[Cairns] is a very, very good team. They’re extremely organised and well coached. I’ve got great respect for the way they go about it. “Fortunately I’ve got Kevin Lisch on my side, and when in doubt give it to Kevin and Kevin got it done for us with a big, big play." The Kings are on the road for two games in Round 6, taking on Brisbane on Thursday night before heading south for a Saturday night clash with Melbourne United. The Taipans also face a busy round six, with a Friday night game against New Zealand in Auckland followed by Sunday’s home meeting with Brisbane.   SYDNEY KINGS 79 (Lisch 15, Newley 15, Whittington 14) CAIRNS TAIPANS 77 (Jawai 19, Gliddon 15, Edwin 15) BOX SCORE
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