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R11 Wrap: Hawks take flight

Round 11 Wrap The Illawarra Hawks have again gone 2-0 in the round – with their most notable improvement coming on the defensive end – and are now just as good a shot to win the Championship as any team in the competition. Meanwhile, Sydney sprung a surprise on Melbourne and Cairns have likely watched their playoff hopes go up in smoke with a lack of fourth-quarter execution. Townsville also made history on Saturday by winning their season series against Perth for the first time since the 2005/06 season. Sydney Kings 96 def Melbourne United 81, Hisense Arena The Sydney Kings handed Melbourne an almighty upset at Hisense Arena to open the round. The Kings bookended the capital city showdown with a first-quarter blitzkrieg (32 points) and staunch, in-the-trenches defence that kept Melbourne to just nine points on 4/23 shooting in the final period. Celebrating his 200th NBL game, Kings co-captain Tommy Garlepp simply could not miss in his 17-point (eight-of-eight) first quarter, but United would match Sydney’s hot shooting with interest in a 39-20 second term. The game was a stalemate for the first five minutes of the second half until the visitors eked out a four-point lead with a quarter to play. Another Melbourne push was expected but never came as Sydney opened the final period with a 12-2 run. Todd Blanchfield led United in both points (18) and rebounds (11), and was backed up by inefficient 16s from Stephen Holt (6/17 FGs) and Chris Goulding (4/17). The Kings got a game-high from Jason Cadee (28 points) and Garlepp ended on 22. BOX SCORE Perth Wildcats 73 def Cairns Taipans 70, Cairns Convention Centre Cairns were left to lament poor fourth quarters for a second time in a row as their playoff ambitions likely crumbled before their own eyes on Thursday night. Up nine points with a quarter to play the Snakes were on the wrong end of a 24-12 final term and now, with a 6-10 record, find themselves 3.5 games behind the fourth-placed Hawks (who also hold the series tiebreaker). Adding injury to insult, point guard Markel Starks played just six minutes before suffering a hamstring injury that kept him out of the rest of the game. Nathan Jawai (13 points, six rebounds) was monstrous in his return to Cairns, but it was his running mate Matt Knight who sealed the game with a tip-in 23 seconds out from time. Before that Jesse Wagstaff came up clutch again with a go-ahead three with 1:18 remaining. Statistics showed there was very little separating the teams except for quality of shots – with Perth getting 44 points in the paint to Cairns’ 20. BOX SCORE Illawarra Hawks 102 def Sydney Kings 83, WIN Entertainment Centre Sydney rode into Wollongong with optimism following a morale-boosting road victory over Melbourne, but left bruised and badly beaten. Julian Khazzouh became the latest Kings casualty after staying down on an awkward yet innocuous play in the second quarter. Early reports are that the Sydney centre has torn the quadriceps tendon in his right leg and will likely miss the rest of the season. Both sides opened the game on fire in the 31-29 first quarter, but only one side could go on with the job as Illawarra went into the change rooms up seven points. Kirk Penney (21 points) poured in eight of his 10 third-quarter points immediately the other side of the half as Illawarra had the Kings buried less than three minutes into the third term. After Jason Cadee’s 28-point explosion in Melbourne two days prior, the young point guard managed just five points as Marcus Thornton, Tommy Garlepp and Rhys Carter scored team-highs of 15 points. BOX SCORE Townsville Crocodiles 75 def Perth Wildcats 58, Townsville Entertainment Centre Another week, another show of heart from Townsville. With playoff talk a mere hypothetical, the North Queenslanders with a 7-12 record managed to defeat the table-topping Wildcats 3-1 in the season series with Saturday’s win. Down 15 points in the second quarter and having scored just 11 in almost 14 minutes of game time, the Crocs got points flowing on the back of defence. Perth’s 12 first-half turnovers became 22 at full time as the Crocs clamped down defensively; crowding passing lanes, rotating well and finishing off with rebounds. While the canny Crocs did not have the best shooting night (40 per cent), scorers Jordair Jett (game-high 18 points) and Clint Steindl (17) carried the load with almost half of the team’s total between them. Having spent a week on the road following their Round 10 win in Sydney, the Wildcats ran out of juice minus import Casey Prather (who averages 25 minutes per game). Jermaine Beal’s six points best illustrated his team’s struggles against Townsville this season, accumulating 35 points on 10/40 field goals for the entire series. BOX SCORE Illawarra Hawks 107 def New Zealand Breakers 83, Vector Arena While Sydney’s shock win in Melbourne and Townsville’s annihilation of Perth were impressive, Illawarra’s Sunday masterclass was the round’s biggest ‘wow’ game. Straight off the bat the Hawks nailed three triples and never looked back, riding the perpetually hot hands of Kirk Penney (27 points) and Kevin Lisch (24 points, six rebounds, seven assists). If five wins from their past six games wasn’t enough to earn the ‘championship contender’ label, Illawarra’s scorching display on Sunday had them right up the top with any other side in the competition. Defence was once an issue for the high-possession Hawks, but over the past six games they have conceded an average of 80.8ppg (overtime at Cairns not included), which would be good for a second-best season average – under one opponent point per game fewer than Perth. Lisch and Penney toyed with New Zealand, while AJ Ogilvy added an efficient 18 points. Thanks to Illawarra’s three-ball (13/27 3pt), a 12-point half-time lead became an unassailable 19 by three-quarter time. Corey Webster top-scored for the Breakers with 25 points and Tai Wesley poured in 20. BOX SCORE Round 12 features abbreviated competition either side of Christmas, as Adelaide – trying desperately to stay in touch with the top four – play host to Melbourne on Wednesday, before a three-day interlude. Sydney and New Zealand will get the ball rolling again on the afternoon of Sunday 27th, with the first game of the new ‘Sydney Olympic Park’ era. The curtain will fall on ‘Christmas Round’ in a Hisense Arena open-air spectacle at 7:00pm on Sunday (weather permitting).
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