The Illawarra Hawks gave their finals hopes a much-needed boost with a commanding 96-84 victory over Sydney Kings at Qudos Bank Arena on Sunday.
A second quarter blitz orchestrated by the Hawks bench propelled the visitors to an important road win, which boosts their record to 9-11 on the season. Illawarra went on a 17-2 to start the second quarter to put themselves in the box seat.
Bench weapons Emmett Naar (18 points) and Jordair Jett (16 points) were at the centre of the offensive onslaught. Import Brian Conklin added 17 points and Cedric Jackson 13.
Kings star Andrew Bogut (10 points, 10 rebounds) was kept relatively quiet as former NBL MVP Jerome Randle tallied a game-high 23 points. The result helped Illawarra bounce back from a gut-wrenching six point loss to Adelaide on Thursday.
“If we just continue to do what we do and follow our rules, that’s what you can do,” Hawks coach Rob Beveridge said. “For us to do that against such a star studded team on their home court with an unbelievable [is great]. At one stage when the crowd was coming back at us, the crowd was so awesome. The way the guys stayed composed and stayed together, I think that showed an enormous amount of maturity.”
The Hawks shot out of the blocks and had a 9-4 advantage after veteran David Andersen hit the target from beyond the arc. When former Hawk Kevin Lisch hit a contested lay-up late in the quarter, Sydney had wrestled their way back into the contest to hold a four point lead.
After trailing 20-18 at the first break, bench weapons Jett, Naar and Tim Coenraad went to work to drag the ledger firmly in the Hawks’ favour. A three from Dan Grida capped off a 17-1 run for Illawarra to start the term.
Sydney relied on the efforts of star duo Bogut and Randle to stay in touch, with the latter draining a late three to help the Kings cut the margin to single digits at the main break.
Naar finished with a perfect 5/5 shooting for the half to lead the scoring with 12 points. It took just 30 seconds for Illawarra to restore the double digit lead as Todd Blanchfield made his jump shot stick with the Hawks’ first possession.
Randle single-handedly tried to drag the hosts back into the contest, but the Kings could do little to stop the Hawks’ offensive output at the opposite end.
They stormed into the fourth quarter with a commanding 72-54 lead. An 8-2 spurt in the first three minutes gave Kings fans some hope of a miraculous comeback as Deng Deng’s jumper cut the margin to 12 points.
They got as close as eight, but the Hawks held their nerve at the death to notch up a crucial road win.
Sydney coach Andrew Gaze struggled to identify what went wrong.
“Fatigue is a factor but it’s not an excuse. I give full credit to Illawarra,” he said.
“They came out here as they should.
“A desperate time trying to make their way into the finals.”
For us to do that against such a star studded team on their home court with an unbelievableRob Beveridge