By Matt McQuade
Despite a promising debut from Sydney Kings’ rookie William McDowell-White, the purple and gold struggled against some great Perth defence and went down 80-74 to the Wildcats on Saturday night at Qudos Bank Arena.
McDowell-White had eight points in just ten minutes and showed why he is so highly rated, but his effort was in vain as the Kings couldn’t find any offensive rhythm most of the night in dropping their fifth game in their last six appearances at home.
The second biggest home crowd of the season went home disappointed during retro night at Qudos Bank Arena with the club honouring one of the great Kings teams of the past – the legendary 1992 unit powered by the spectacular Dwayne McClain.
Sydney’s recent woes from the perimeter were a factor in this game. The team went a combined 8 of 28 from three point range and missed a number of open looks in the second half that may have put more scoreboard pressure on.
But it just didn’t happen for the Kings at both ends of the floor, and their loss gave Perth the lead in the regular season series. Sydney dropped to fourth with an 11-11 record, now facing an uphill climb to reach the postseason.
“It never felt really comfortable with the way we were playing,” Head Coach Andrew Gaze said afterwards.
“A lot of that you can equate to just the ball not going in the hole. Sometimes you execute well and you get shots and they don’t go in.”
“Tonight though I don’t think we executed well. The process to get shots today was sloppy, and I think we were inconsistent on the offensive end.”
“And defensively, we weren’t where we needed to be. It’s very hard to win games when the opposition shoots 52%.”
Bolstered by the return from injury of their captain Damian Martin and the addition of former NBA point guard Bryce Cotton, who torched the purple and gold with 26 points on debut, the Wildcats showed that they will be a very tough out the rest of the season as they look to build on their record streak of 30 consecutive playoff appearances.
With Perth looking as complete a team as they have all season, it was no surprise they jumped a nervous looking Kings early, with a three point play from Jameel McKay (19 points, eight rebounds, four blocked shots) and a triple from Cotton staking the visitors to a 10-3 lead.
Despite a three point play in response from Jason Cadee (15 points), Perth kept pouring it on, and a 7-0 run saw them sprint to a 17-6 advantage with Coach Gaze calling for time to stop the bleeding.
But Cotton was on fire, draining three triples in the quarter, and with the Kings struggling to make anything offensively outside McDowell-White, who swished a triple with his first attempt, Perth kept extending their lead before consecutive bombs from Kevin Lisch (10 points, three assists) and Cadee made it a 27-18 Perth lead with one quarter gone.
Coach Gaze asked his troops for a better defensive effort as the second got underway, and they responded in lockdown fashion, blistering the Wildcats with a 12-0 run that gave them their first lead of the ballgame with just over five minutes left to halftime.
The team started to crank it up in transition and the result was some of the explosive basketball that so characterised the Kings earlier this season.
However, Cotton was proving unstoppable, and had a pair of tough baskets late to give him 16 for the half on a sizzling five of six from the field as the Wildcats went to the rooms up 38-34.
Again the purple and gold upped the defensive effort as the second half began, and a 7-2 run gave Sydney just their second lead of the ballgame with three minutes gone.
But with Martin orchestrating Perth’s D as he has done for so many years, the Wildcats grabbed back the momentum, and an 8-2 Wildcat charge pushed the visitors to a seven point advantage late in the third quarter.
Sydney turned to star rookie McDowell-White for a spark, and the youngster provided one with a brilliant head fake and drive to the bucket for the deuce followed by a big triple to keep Sydney in touch, and the Kings were down just three, 57-54, with one period remaining.
Perth’s D was the story in the early minutes of the final quarter, with Sydney’s offence bogging down thanks to the Wildcats’ relentless pressure, and a 7-2 run capped by a Jarrad Kenny triple gave the visitors a 64-56 lead as Coach Gaze burnt a timeout to get his boys back on track.
However, Perth is a noted front-running team, and each time Sydney tried to respond, the Wildcats had the answer. McKay was a dominant force inside in helping the visitors to a 70-60 advantage with less than four minutes remaining.
The Kings had several good looks at the bucket which didn’t fall, and they were held scoreless for more than two minutes before a Greg Whittington steal and dunk had Sydney down eight with two minutes left.
There was plenty of fight left in the purple and gold, and another Whittington jam followed by a Cadee triple gave the team some hope.
Ultimately, Perth just made every play they needed to when it absolutely counted, and despite another Cadee triple in the final minute, the Wildcats closed it out from the free throw line.
Sydney will next take on the New Zealand Breakers in Round 15 action Friday night at Vector Arena in Auckland.