The drought is over.
In front of over 6,500 screaming fans on Friday night at Qudos Bank Arena, the Sydney Kings finally gave the faithful something to celebrate in this holiday season with an 85-80 win over the New Zealand Breakers.
They had to do it the hard way, coming back from a seven point deficit in the fourth quarter to earn a tough W despite an uncharacteristically cold shooting night from Kevin Lisch (nine points, three assists, three steals), who went just 1 of 14 from the field.
However, there’s no doubt the Sydney Kings captain is also one of the most clutch players in the NBL history, and when the Kings needed him the most, he was there, front and centre, hitting six from six at the foul line in the final minute to get the purple and gold their victory.
“Down the stretch, it was real gut check time,” Head Coach Andrew Gaze said.
“Your season is on the line, and you’re seven down with six minutes to go.”
“We called a timeout and said that the only way we are going to get out of this is playing some defence and getting some turnovers – create some offence from our defence.”
“We’re grateful to come out of it with a win, but with the realisation that we aren’t going to win an NBL championship playing the way we played today.”
A game that was a grind in the last period started brightly for both teams, especially the purple and gold.
Sydney opened with genuine purpose at the offensive end, with Brad Newley (16 points, six assists, four rebounds, four steals) an immediate factor. He found Aleks Maric with a great feed for the power jam to open the scoring and had a couple of buckets as the Kings made their first six shots to streak away to an early 17-9 advantage.
The only thing letting the team down was an inability to secure the defensive boards, to the extreme chagrin of Coach Gaze. New Zealand took advantage, with a late 7-0 run capped by a Paul Carter triple slicing the margin to just three, 23-20, at the first break.
Sydney reasserted their authority as the second period with a 7-1 run capped by a brilliant Jason Cadee (22 points, three rebounds) dribble drive to the rack for the basket and one. He converted the three point play to push the lead back out to nine with three minutes gone.
But it was only fleeting, as Kirk Penney had six points as part of a 10-3 Breaker run to quickly pull the visitors to within two of the Kings.
As he so often does when he plays the Kings, Alex Pledger took up where Penney left off, but Josh Powell (10 points, six rebounds) answered him with a pair of scores to keep Sydney’s nose in front.
New Zealand was seemingly getting to every loose ball and kept the pressure on, with a Newley drive for two answered by a Pledger jam to make it 46-42 Sydney at intermission.
It was the Breakers who struck first in the third quarter with a Penney three giving their first lead since the eight minute mark of the opening period.
However, the Kings responded.
Cadee splashed a pair of triples and Newley attacked in transition for a pair of buckets as the Kings rang up ten straight points in quick succession to give them a 56-47 lead with four minutes gone.
That man Penney was at it again with consecutive long range bombs and a free throw for six points as New Zealand continued to show plenty of fight, coming back with a 10-1 run to tie the game at 57 with two minutes left in the quarter.
And the Breakers kept pouring it on, with the cold-blooded Penney draining yet another triple to give his team another lead and Finn Delany skying for a spectacular tip-in before Tom Garlepp’s dunk made it a 63-61 New Zealand lead with a quarter left to play.
Carter buried a corner triple to get the scoring underway in the fourth quarter as the crowd groaned, but Lisch knocked in his first basket of the game after 11 straight misses to keep Sydney in touch.
Still, New Zealand kept pressing. A three from Delany followed by a blocked shot from Pledger and then a layup in transition from the Breakers’ centre had the visitors out by seven and Coach Gaze called for time with his team in serious trouble.
Coming out of the break, Sydney went to a matchup zone and it did the trick, forcing New Zealand into multiple errors, and a 7-2 Kings’ run made it a two point game with four minutes remaining.
It turned into a defensive slugfest with both teams desperate. A Delany basket was answered by two Newley foul shots, before Powell smartly forced Shae Ili to commit his fifth foul and cashed in from the charity stripe to make it a one point ballgame.
With starting point guard David Stockton sidelined through injury and Ili fouled out, Penney was forced to assume point guard duties, and after he missed a triple, Sydney got the ball from an out of bounds scramble and Lisch nailed two clutch free throws to give the Kings the lead.
Incredibly, after the Kings had gotten the ball back from a Breaker miss, Penney committed a foul on Newley with his team in the penalty and plenty of time remaining. Newley made one of two at the line to give the Kings an 80-78 lead with less than 30 seconds remaining.
To make matters worse, it was Penney’s fifth foul, and as he headed to the bench, Sydney had the advantage.
But there were several twists left in the tale.
Akil Mitchell was called for a five second violation to give the ball back to the Kings, and when Lisch was fouled on the ensuing possession, he calmly buried both at the line to give the home team a critical four point advantage with 25 seconds left.
Remarkably, Powell fouled Rob Loe on a three point attempt on the next possession, and he made two of three from the line to reduce the lead to just two.
Cadee had one of two from the line to make it 83-80, but when the Kings forced Carter into a travel and Lisch was fouled on the next play, the Captain showed ice water in his veins to hit both and close the game out.
The Kings take on the defending champion Perth Wildcats next Saturday night at Qudos Bank Arena. Tickets are on sale now through TICKETEK