Phoenix deny Hawks in Goorjian's Heartland return

When the ladder-leading Hawks faced the upstart Phoenix, the past and present of South East Melbourne basketball faced off at the State Basketball Centre. 

The NBL returned to Melbourne with the previously undefeated Hawks taking on the hometown South East Melbourne Phoenix, a game that marked six-time NBL champion Brian Goorjian’s return to the city he had so much success in. 

Goorjian’s Midas touch has been on full display this season, and when Tyler Harvey and Golden State Warriors draftee Justinian Jessup drained signature threes in the opening minutes, Phoenix coach Simon Mitchell must have been fearing more of the same. 

A gritty Phoenix squad got to the four line more often than the Hawks as they chased down a first-quarter deficit to ensure it was deadlocked (23-all) at quarter-time. But from there, things got a lot tougher for the Hawks. 

The Phoenix broke away to a six-point lead (45-39) at half-time thanks to the creativity of Kyle Adnam (15 points) and power inside of Ben Moore (15 points, 14 rebounds), who were supported by an efficient display from Mitch Creek (15 points, 5/6 shooting and seven rebounds). 

When the Phoenix found their range from three and opened up a double-digit lead in the third quarter, the Hawks began to unravel. Nobody embodied this turnaround like Cam Gliddon, who didn’t trouble scorers in the first half but had 15 points by the time it was over. 

In the end, the Phoenix’s muscle and energy the strong State Basketball Centre crowd provided – enjoying their first taste of the Phoenix at home for nearly a year – proved too much for the Hawks, who went down 98-82.

Gliddon was 5/11 from the three-point line, shrugging off a shooting slump that had dogged his first season with the Phoenix. 

Another encouraging sign for the Phoenix was Keifer Sykes’ seamless transition into the role once occupied by John Roberson. Sykes’ shooting (15 points) has been superb, but it is his ability to involve teammates in the offence (seven assists) that gives the Phoenix another dimension. 

The Phoenix showed why they are considered a dark horse for the NBL title with this victory and after some tough losses are back at the .500 mark now with three wins and three losses. 

"It was really important, we talked about it pre-game. It has been 12 months since our fans have been able to watch us," Phoenix coach Simon Mitchell said. 

"We talked about our state and particularly the south-east of our state has been through. The incredible amount of pride they take in us and the importance to acknowledge that today." 

"I'm glad the players put in a performance that was worthy of their loyalty. I think it is nice to have your head on your own pillow. We've had that for a couple of nights now." 

We were focused on Illawarra and what we needed to beat Illawarra no matter where we played them. We were away from a month and we believed we could have won every game while we were away. 

The Hawks suffered their first loss of the season to move to four wins and one defeat, but Goorjian will look to retool quickly as the highly-anticipated first NBL Cup approaches. 

The most encouraging sign for the Hawks was that while some of their stars were quiet, the returning Deng Adel (17 points, three assists) and Cam Bairstow (15 points, six rebounds) were solid.

Goorjian obviously had some emotions on his return to Melbourne, but in the end he came away a little frustrated with areas of the game.

"Without a doubt, every game we go on the road something new emotionally appears. Playing Cairns and there’s Mike Kelly, coming here and this is where it all started," Goorjian said. 

"Nunawading, Knox, east side, this is where it all started… this is home, this is where it all started. It’s a great basketball area and great basketball area in South East Melbourne.

"You’ve got to win those energy points. We looked a step off it, from a coaching standpoint I probably struggled a bit. We’ve added to players to the rotation and I’ve struggled there.

"They smashed us on the glass and they shot a very high percentage. Late in the game we had to go small and play pick-and-roll to try to get back in the game. This isn’t the Illawarra Hawks of the last couple of years. We’re going to get everyone’s last shot."

The Phoenix continue their home stand with a pair of matches against the defending champion Perth Wildcats next week. 

The Hawks, meanwhile, finally get to play in front of their home fans in Wollongong on Wednesday against Melbourne United.


SOUTH EAST MELBOURNE PHOENIX 98 (Gliddon 15, Sykes 15, Creek 15, Adnam 15, Moore 15)

THE HAWKS 82 (Adel 17, Bairstow 15, Harvey 13) 



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