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GAME REPORT

Sobey Fires as Bullets Hand Hawks First Loss

You can never write off a champion. After worrying Brisbane fans with a suspected pectoral injury on Friday against Perth, Olympian Nathan Sobey guided the Bullets home in a tense 96-92 win over the previously undefeated Illawarra Hawks on Sunday.

Both Sobey and fellow guard Anthony Drmic picked up niggles on the three-game road trip the Bullets endured to open the season and were given reduced minutes in their return to Nissan Arena.

Sobey proved that sometimes quality trumps quantity. The bronze medal winning Boomers guard was sensational down the stretch with nine critical points in the fourth quarter to secure the win against a surging Hawks.

It was far from a one-man performance, though. The Bullets defence was sensational, restricting MVP fancy Tyler Harvey to just nine points and fellow Hawks star Justinian Jessup to just 11. 

At one point, Brisbane led by as many as 15. But as the Hawks showed against the Breakers this round, that margin is not enough to hold them at bay.

The Hawks stole the lead twice in the third quarter and levelled the scores in the fourth. They even had a three-point attempt in the final 30 seconds that would have locked up the scores. But Brisbane held their nerve to show they could be genuine contenders in #NBL22.

Sobey top-scored for the Bullets with 17 points, five rebounds and five assists. Fellow general Jason Cadee wound back the clock with 16 points and four assists while import Robert Franks continued his hot early season form with 16 points, seven rebounds and three assists including another 4/8 from downtown.

Bullets coach James Duncan said that Sobey was a "warrior" and admitted the star guard was in extreme doubt to even line up for this match.

"He is tough as nails. He made huge plays getting to the basket, getting to the free throw line, kicking it out," he said.

"He did a great job of trusting his teammates over the course of the game and when it was his time, when he felt the moment, he got us over the line."

The Bullets now have a week's rest at home before facing the Cairns Taipans and Sobey will be monitored during the week after the physical clash against the Hawks.

"It was tough for him. I can say that we will reevaluate him over the next 24/48 hours ... I am glad we have a bit of a break, but I don't want to get into more on the injury," Duncan said. 

"I can honestly say I didn't know if he was going to play. It didn't look good, but somehow with our medical and team and himself saying "I am playing", he was able to."

In a boost for the Bullets, injured import Isaiah Moss could come into the frame for the Taipans game but Duncan said he will not be rushed into the side prematurely.

"The hamstring is a delicate situation," he said.

"Obviously when he comes back he will boost our group as well. We will take our time, work him into the group for maybe next game or the following week."

With the Hawks stars stifled, they needed to find weapons from elsewhere. Up stepped Harry Froling, not wanted by the Bullets in the off-season who returned to Nissan Arena to punish his old side with 15 points, three rebounds and four assists. 

Duop Reath was sublime again with 15 points and seven rebounds while import Antonius Cleveland had 13 points and four boards.

The loss has created an early-season headache for Hawks coach Brian Goorjian after his starting side fell into early holes in two consecutive games following Friday's early lapse against New Zealand.

"It's something that we've got to evaluate. We've got some new guys here, maybe this is not the group to start with. We've got options here," Goorjian said.

"We're trying to figure it out with the stats, but we haven't accumulated a lot yet. We've only played four games and only two games leading into this with virtually no practice games.

"It only comes with time and games. Maybe we will make a change in the starting group over time. But that group that played, that main group of players, they will be playing big minutes in order for us to go where we need to go."

Boomers teammates Reath and Sobey opened the scoring for their respective teams, Reath hitting a triple off an offensive rebound before Sobey responded at the other end of the court. 

Reath continued to show his versatility, blocked by opposite number Tyrell Harrison but regathering to score a tough basket.

Harrison was busy at both ends and it was the Bullets who opened up an early lead, a Tanner Krebs brace of triples pushing their buffer out to 20-7. 

Veteran Tim Coenraad provided the response with consecutive long-range bombs of his own. Jason Cadee had been the architect of the Bullets offence and splashed a late triple of his own, helping steer the Bullets to a 30-20 quarter-time lead.

The rampage continued in the second quarter as the Bullets streaked out to a 15-point lead until Harvey and Jessup stopped the rot with consecutive three-pointers. 

Cleveland rattled the rim with a statement individual play and the Hawks began to wind up their charge. But Patterson had other ideas as he hit a treble in response to some poor Hawks defensive efforts. 

It was a three-point barrage from both sides and when Harry Froling hit one from range against his former team, the margin was cut to just eight.  The Hawks had done well to stay in the match, but it was still the Bullets who went into the main break with a 54-45 advantage.

The Hawks rode a wave of momentum into the third quarter and pinched the lead on two occasions as the Brisbane side struggled with turnovers under sustained Illawarra pressure.

Charged with more responsibility, Cadee splashed an important triple to give his side a six-point buffer and just as the Hawks surged again, Tamuri Wigness did likewise.

Cadee's creativity was proving the difference, kicking a ball back in the dying seconds of the term for Franks to splash from range and the Bullets had a 75-67 lead heading into the final term.

It wasn't long before the margin was back to just one point, though, as Froling continued his rampage against his old side. His brother was a decisive factor later in the quarter, Sam getting the shot and ensuing foul stroke to level the scores once more. 

If Sobey was feeling any impacts from his chest injury, he wasn't showing it as he stroked a triple then drove to the lane - roaring at the crowd to help bring his side home. It began a run from the Boomers guard that the Hawks could not contain and ultimately proved the difference.

HUNGRY JACK'S NBL ROUND 3

BRISBANE BULLETS 96 (Sobey 17, Franks 16, Cadee 16)

ILLAWARRA HAWKS 92 (H Froling 15, Reath 15, Cleveland 13)

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