By Matt McQuade
The fight goes on for the Sydney Kings as the purple and gold kept their playoff hopes alive with a blowout 84-57 win over the New Zealand Breakers on Sunday afternoon at Qudos Bank Arena.
A raucous home crowd of 7,803 saw the Kings fight back from an early deficit in running their record to 13-13 on the season, maintaining third spot on the NBL ladder after what was the biggest win over the Breakers in franchise history.
“I think that early on, we missed some shots we ordinarily would make,” Head Coach Andrew Gaze said afterwards.
“I thought we could have been 20 up at halftime, but we were only up 13. I told the fellas that the effort at the defensive end was going to be the difference.”
“I think we did a great job defensively in the third quarter. We started getting into the lanes, got some deflections, and then still had the energy to go the other way.”
“It was just a fun game to be a part of.”
There was plenty of history made on Sunday afternoon, with Kings’ development player Bo Liu becoming the first Chinese player to score a basket in the National Basketball League.
The Sydney forward buried a corner jumper in the fourth quarter for the milestone, and Coach Gaze paid tribute to Bo in the post-game media conference.
“I’m happy for Bo,” he said.
“He hasn’t gotten a lot of minutes, but he is a capable player. He could play minutes in this league, but we’ve got great depth in his position.”
“He pushes the other guys at practice, he’s a great student of the game, and when you consider that he’s away from his family, his English isn’t great, it’s a different culture – he’s had to deal with an unbelievable set of circumstances.”
“But he takes it in his stride, he’s very committed to what he’s trying to do, he’s got a huge heart, he plays hard and he does it with a great deal of passion.”
Sydney’s destruction of New Zealand was set up in the second and third periods, where they outscored the Breakers 48-20 and played some breathtaking basketball in winning back to back games for the first time since early December.
In their biggest win of the 2016/2017 campaign, the team forced 25 New Zealand turnovers, scored 34 points off those Breaker mistakes and had ten players hit the score sheet. It was as complete a performance as Sydney has produced since their blistering 5-1 start to the season.
But it didn’t begin well. Kirk Penney was the chief destroyer early with a pair of triples as New Zealand forged to the lead in the first period, helped by the Kings not hitting a number of wide-open looks to the chagrin of Coach Gaze.
But as they did on Friday against Brisbane, Greg Whittington (16 points, eight rebounds, seven assists) and Tom Garlepp (nine points, three rebounds) took up the challenge offensively, nailing six of eight field goals between them to help the Kings take a 23-19 lead after one after Craig Moller (nine points, five rebounds) nailed a triple at the buzzer.
Playing with great energy and activity, Moller continued his impressive run as the second quarter got underway with a sweet jumper to give him a quick five points, before Whittington took a pass from Josh Powell and threw down a vicious dunk that blew the roof off Qudos Bank Arena and had the Kings on a 10-0 run.
Sydney’s intensity at both ends was as good as it had been in many weeks as they continued to disrupt the Breakers’ flow – forcing seven New Zealand turnovers in the period and capitalising on those mistakes.
They kept pouring it on with Aleks Maric (four steals) blasting all of his nine points in a three minute burst and Moller continuing to impress, helping their team to a 45-25 lead with three minutes left in the half.
Unfortunately, the one thing that has really cost the team in recent times – a precipitous drop in intensity – helped the Breakers fight back, and New Zealand closed with seven straight points to make it 45-32 Sydney at intermission.
Whittington brought the fans alive after his team’s slow start to the third period with three consecutive dunks and when Kevin Lisch (15 points, three rebounds, three assists) and Jason Cadee (13 points, five rebounds, three assists) splashed three straight triples between them, the Kings’ run was 15 straight, the lead was a scarcely believable 26 and a potential blowout was very much back in play.
Things went from bad to worse for the visitors late in the quarter, when import Paul Carter was ejected after receiving three technical fouls for arguing with the officials, and incredibly, Sydney outscored New Zealand 26-7 in the third period, racing to a 71-39 lead with a quarter remaining.
The fourth period predictably turned a little ugly with the game well out of hand, but it did allow Coach Gaze to run his bench for an extended period, including Bo Liu, who entered the game with more than three minutes remaining.
When Bo Liu buried his history-making corner jumper, Qudos Bank Arena erupted and the Kings cruised from there to keep their destiny very much in their own hands.