A remarkable last quarter turnaround, coupled with a big man tour de force from import Jarell Martin has kept the Sydney Kings’ sputtering season alive.
Neck and neck with the Illawarra Hawks and Brisbane Bullets for the fourth and last NBL finals spot, the Kings did not come out like a team playing for their season.
But the intensity finally lifted late in the last as Martin and fellow tower Jordan Hunter took it on themselves to lead their side to an 81-76 revenge win over the New Zealand Breakers.
Martin was a monster for the Kings all night. The ex-NBA man exploited a notable quickness advantage over big Breakers’ oak tree Colton Iverson to attack the rim on his way to a hyper-efficient 29 points on 12-21 shooting.
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Hunter did not do much of note in the first half, but his third-quarter two-handed jam on Iverson was one of the most ferocious throwdowns of the season and it helped him come alive, finishing the game with 14 points and seven rebounds — including 10-11 from the free throw line.
In fact, the Kings lived at the charity stripe and their accuracy — 33-39 — saved their blushes, as they turned the ball over 13 times.
The Breakers had two chances to tie it late, but Rasmus Bach missed a three and then Corey Webster was wide on a mid-range jumper, before Martin popped in two free throws and Shaun Bruce made one to extend the lead to five.
A clutch Corey Webster trey reduced the margin to two with five seconds left, but that was all she wrote as Casper Ware went to the line and made one and missed one, which was hauled in by Bruce, who then potted his freebies.
Coach Adam Forde roasted his team at the long break, saying there was “nothing” to like about their performance.
“We’re flopping our turnovers, we’re giving up O rebounds, we’re not playing like we’re trying to fight for top four — we’re making up the numbers,” he said.
Breakers import Levi Randolph was electric in his second game back from a hamstring injury, catching fire with 11 first-quarter points on his way to 25 points in a losing effort.
After COVID forced the Breakers on the road from Round 1, coach Dan Shamir said it was nice to be back in front of home fans for the second game in a row.
“It feels great to play in territory where people are cheering when we score,” Shamir said.
The Kings have four games left to secure a finals berth, but their next is the toughest trip in the NBL — the Perth Wildcats at RAC Arena on Thursday. The Breakers are back in action Tuesday against the Adelaide 36ers.
OPERATION: STOP DELANY
Midweek, Finn Delany had one of his best games of the season, dropping a stunning 28 points and 13 rebounds on the Kings. That haul included four three-pointers and a perfect 6-6 from the free throw.
The Tall Black star was held scoreless in the first quarter and finished the game with just four points on 1-9 shooting as the Kings took away his outside opportunities and defended without fouling.
COOKS-ING UP A STORM
There’s something special about Cooks. The 203cm smooth-mover plays tall and small, with the ability to guard-one-through-five, crash the glass and score.
In just his fourth game back from the right foot injury that kept him out for the majority of the NBL21 season, Cooks had nine points and seven boards, which is not earth-shattering, but shows signs of what the Kings have missed.
It goes without saying that, had Cooks been healthy for longer, the Kings predicament would be less dire and the 25-year-old Victorian native’s signature will be a priority.
The Breakers wore their heritage jersey for the clash in honour of New Zealand basketball legend Steve McKean.
The former Tall Blacks coach died earlier this week after he was diagnosed with cancer.
The American, simply known as ‘Coach’, fell in love with New Zealand, leading the national team from 1972-81, before becoming a permanent fixture in Kiwi sport, passing on his knowledge to thousands of kids.