Hungry Jack's NBL
MVP Leads Kings to 1-0 Semi-Final Lead Over Hawks
They might have learned a lesson about sleeping on the Hawks, but the Sydney Kings did enough to secure Game 1 of their semi-final series against Illawarra 89-79 at the WIN Entertainment Centre on Friday night.
It looked like it was going to be an easy victory for the Kings after they smashed the Hawks 30-9 in the second quarter and surged to a 19-point lead - including a 17-point lead going into the final quarter.
However, the Kings might have taken their foot off the pedal a touch too early, allowing the Hawks to throw the kitchen sink at them and come within three points with plenty of time left in the final quarter to chase down the deficit.
However, NBL MVP Jaylen Adams (30 points, six rebounds, five assists) and NBA championship winner Ian Clark (16 points on 7/10 shooting) used their skill and guile to ease their side back out to a comfortable lead that has the Kings in a strong position to contest for a place in the NBL Grand Final.
Five players had double digits with Xavier Cooks finishing with 11 points and 10 boards along with four assists, Makur Maker had 11 points and four rebounds and Dejan Vasiljevic had 12 vital points.
Kings coach Chase Buford said they would not be looking for a repeat of the final quarter on Sunday, but was glad to get an important win on the road and was especially happy with Swaka Lo Buluk's defensive job on Tyler Harvey.
"Every game there are lessons that can be talked about. I probably put the brakes on our offence as much as anybody," Buford said.
"Down the stretch, they hit some shots and we hung our heads which you can't do.
'They are a good team, a talented bunch of individual players.' I was proud of Swaka, he did a great job hustling him, harassing him and making life tough for him as best he could."
The Hawks can take come confidence that they can chase down almost any margin, but a repeat of the second quarter performance displayed here will spell finals oblivion.
Defensive Player of the Year Antonius Cleveland got it done on both ends with 21 points, seven rebounds and two blocks while Olympian Duop Reath went on a rampage with 26 points including five three-pointers along with 10 boards.
Perhaps worryingly for the Hawks, Tyler Harvey was held to just 10 points on 4/12 shooting.
Hawks coach Brian Goorjian said he was 'embarrassed' and his team played 'rat ball' in the second half, while singling out his bench unit for the second quarter horror and didn’t put them back on.
"I feel embarrassed, the whole team does. We worked hard all year to get a crowd like this and the whole town behind us. It is not just losing the game, but how we played," Goorjian said.
"The second half was rat ball trying to get back into the game, but we were totally out of it. How we played the game was very, very, very disappointing. 'I elected not to go there for the rest of the game, we couldn't.
"'It blew out from a five-point game to resting someone and it going to (19). They (the Kings) have got a lot of energy coming off their bench. We didn't - and we need that."
The Hawks signalled their intent to target Jarell Martin, with Cleveland blocking the import and helping steer his side to an early lead.
Illawarra broke free first with a 12-8 advantage before Adams drained a much-needed triple to arrest the run. Adams was determined to make an impact on the scoreboard and it wasn't long before the Kings had drawn level.
Cleveland was pacing the Hawks with 11 points for the quarter, but Vasiljevic exploded with eight points of his own and Illawarra only led 24-22 at the first break.
Cooks helped himself to a couple of buckets to open the second, extending the Kings' streak to 12 and pushing their lead out by five. The two sides went bucket-for-bucket for much of the term until Adams took it on himself again, launching a missile from the logo to push his side's lead out to seven.
A 12-0 run had Sydney firmly in command at 44-31 and Goorjian called his troops in for a chat.
The Hawks were all at sea, though, as the Kings moved the ball with ease and Ian Clark took over with 10 points for the quarter. By the time the dust settled, Sydney led 55-32.
Duop Reath opened the second half with a triple as the Hawks opened with a 5-0 run. However, outstanding defence at the rim meant Reath then went 0/5 in a single passage of play.
Adams responded with an effortless slash to the rack with an extra foul shot for dessert - a few words from the MVP to the crowd the cherry on top.
It was a mountain that needed climbing, but some flashes of brilliance from Jessup and a three-point play completed at the foul line from Harvey gave the home side some hope.
Ultimately they still went into the final quarter trailing 74-57 and the mountain was rapidly looking like Everest.
Sydney seemed content to just coast their way to victory and it was the crack that the Hawks ripped open, a Reath triple the icing on the cake of an enterprising run that cut the margin to just 10 points.
The Reath rampage continued and the lead was suddenly just eight points. The Kings' shots just refused to drop and when Reath his another long-ranger, the margin was just three points with more than three minutes left in the match.
Finally, Adams and Clark found the baskets to push the margin beyond doubt and Sydney only need to win at home in Game 2 to secure their place in the NBL Grand Final against either Melbourne United or Tasmania JackJumpers.
HUNGRY JACK'S NBL FINALS – SEMI FINALS GAME 1
ILLAWARRA HAWKS 79 (Reath 26, Cleveland 21, Harvey 10)
SYDNEY KINGS 89 (Adams 30, Clark 16, Vasiljevic 12)
Sydney leads best-of-three series 1-0