Tag: Kevin Lisch

2019/20 season review: Sydney Kings

THE Sydney Kings were one of the three teams that tied for first position in 2018-19 alongside the Perth Wildcats and Melbourne United. Unfortunately, due to percentage the Kings would have to settle for third position and relinquish home court advantage, and they would lose their semi-final series to United 2-0.

This season, however, Will Weaver’s side would take no luxuries, as for the first time in NBL history, a single team would remain at the top of the League’s standings from the first round to the last.

From start to finish

Sydney Kings would begin their season from the get-go, as they would fight hard for an eight-point away win against the Taipans. Following this, a convincing 22-point demolition of the 36ers would quickly establish the Kings as the League’s benchmark and the team to beat throughout the season. It would not all come so easily to the Kings, which was evidenced by their back-to-back series against the Breakers. A team that would finish the season in sixth would push Sydney to the limit across eight quarters. Nevertheless, the Purple and Gold would prevail in both contests, extending their unbeaten start to the season to four.

Sydney’s first downfall came from an old foe, as once again United would come out on top as a result of a 107-104 battle down at Melbourne Arena, reminding the Kings of the pain they endured in last season’s semi-finals. Not only was Sydney’s win percentage throughout the season impressive, it was their ability to bounce back from a loss and stick to their guns. This was evident following their first loss of the season. Firstly, a 10-point win over the Bullets would provide valuable momentum to the Kings as they would face the second of the League’s best two sides two days later.

The first contest between the Kings and Wildcats was a close affair at first with Sydney up by just three points. But thanks to rookie Brazilian, Didi Louzada (28 points and six rebounds), an exemplary second half from the Kings would ensue, as they outscored Perth 55-39 in the last two periods, solidifying themselves as the League’s top dogs. Another three contests would be won in a row to cap off one of the best starts in the NBL’s history, holding a record of 11 wins and one loss after 12 games.

Over the next two games for Sydney, however, would not be so kind due to losing back-to-back games to the Taipans and the Wildcats in their rematch at RAC Arena, which started to bring up questions of whether the Kings could hold their own against the other top teams in the finals conversation. Sitting atop of the standings with an 11-3 record, the two-horse race between themselves and the defending champions from WA had started to heat up, as for the rest of the regular season, the Kings would have the Wildcats nipping at their heels week after week.

A 2-3 start to the second half of the season would make things a little harder for the Kings, going down to the Wildcats again (bringing their season series to 1-2), the Bullets and the bottom-seeded Hawks in a game that fell through their grasp like wet sand. If the Kings were to secure the top-seed and earn home-court advantage through the playoffs, a strong push would be needed for their remaining five matchups and one factor remained a constant on the route to the top-spot.

Sydney’s ability to win on their home floor would provide much needed leeway in the standings because the Kings’ road record was not impressive. At 8-6 away from home, Sydney’s home record was what separated themselves from the Wildcats, losing just twice at Qudos Bank Arena through the 28 games. Their home record would come up big for them once again through their final nine games as they would win all five home encounters in the final stretch, which coupled with two away victories to help Weaver’s team secure the League’s number one seed with a season record of 20 wins and eight losses.

Run it back

For the second straight season the Kings would matchup with Melbourne United in this season’s NBL semi-finals, but this time it would be the Kings that would hold the home-court advantage.

Following a slow first three quarters where United would limit almost all of Sydney’s major weapons, whether it would Casper Ware’s shooting efficiency, Andrew Bogut’s inside presence or Jae’Sean Tate’s effectiveness from the wing. Despite this, the Kings would pull off one of the biggest comeback efforts in front of more than 13,000 people at Qudos bank Arena. One of Will Weaver’s strengths when it comes to his sides, is their massive amount of depth across the roster, and Game One of the series would prove this once again, as standout performances would come out of Xavier Cooks (13 points, nine rebounds and four assists), Brad Newley (17 points and five rebounds) and Didi Louzada (eight points in 16 minutes) who would come up big down the stretch. While Tate did find his stroke late in the game with 23 points and five boards, without the help of their secondary unit United certainly would have taken Game One.

Game Two was an entirely different story, however, as Melbourne was more than a little angry, due to the 16-point lead they blew two days earlier and they were itching to make amends. While the game would seem innocent after ten minutes of play, United would turn on the gas over the next two quarters scoring 77 points in the next 20 minutes. As a result, Melbourne would score 38 straight points at one stage of their run, as well as being in front by as many as 58 points, therefore quashing any possibility of a late comeback, as United would take out the debilitating contest 125-80.

But once again, Sydney’s ability to fight back on their home floor would be on display, as Game Three returned back to New South Wales for the deciding game. With both sides winning quarters leading into the main break. United had the slight edge as they led by five following a strong second quarter and it was well documented that marquee Guard and ex-Melbourne United player, Casper Ware, was not performing at his usual rate up until Game Three. But the import would pick up his game with 15 points and four rebounds, which was further aided by Tate’s 20 points which proved to be important late in the game. The Kings would tie up the contest by the end of the third quarter, setting the crowd up for a Win or Go Home final quarter. With defence being the major talking point all game, one of the teams had to break away, and with Tate once again proving to be the factor by making a jump shot with 84 seconds left in the game to put the Kings up by four, it turned out to be enough to get Sydney over the line against their long-time rivals. They would hold on to win the nail-biter 89-87 and move on to the Grand Final series to face the Wildcats.

False Kings

Even though the Kings had proven on numerous occasions that they were the best performing team in the competition following the 20 rounds, not everyone was convinced that the Kings could topple the reigning champs. Throughout the four encounters of these two teams, Sydney had only defeated Perth on one occasion, which sparked an abundance of doubt from punters and spectators alike. Nevertheless, the spectacle of game One proved to be a treat for all that attended as they observed a highly competitive contest.

With both teams trading quarters and leads, it was only three points the difference at the end of the first half, with the Wildcats just holding their noses in front. However, the Kings would hit back hard with a strong third quarter leading by five with ten minutes remaining. But behind their MVP, the Wildcats would have the last run of the game, outscoring the Kings 20-13 in the last quarter, taking Game One on the road by 88-86. Bryce Cotton’s 32 points, six rebounds and four assists would set the tone for a stellar series individually.

Following new COVID-19 restrictions, the dynamic of home court advantage would change as a minimal amount of people would attend games, and given the result of Game Two, this became very relevant as strong first and fourth quarters saw the Kings tie up the series 1-1 in a very quiet RAC Arena, as Bogut, Tate and Kevin Lisch combined for 58 points in Sydney’s 97-83 win leading into Game Three. With the new restrictions, they would soon giveth and taketh away as the lack of supporters would also work in favour of the Wildcats, following a 29-18 opening period, which seemingly deflated the Kings from the beginning. Because of this, 61 points from Cotton and Nick Kay would beat down on the Kings’ defence earning them the easy 2-1 series lead.

As the NBL would decide to anti-climactically end the series due to the newly introduced lockdown restrictions after three games instead of the conventional five games, and much deliberation, by default the Wildcats were awarded their second title in a row ending the Kings seemingly unstoppable campaign.

What next?

Casper Ware

 For many occasions, Casper Ware was the reason for a lot of Sydney’s success. However, when it came to moments at the tail end of the regular season, Ware would appear absent in times that mattered. This became apparent in the semi-final series against Melbourne United, as shooting became seemingly difficult for the star Guard. This would also carry over into the Grand Final series against Perth, as Cotton found the freedom to explode onto the scoreboard compared to his opponent.

Nevertheless, Ware’s numbers remained impressive as he positioned himself sixth amongst the League’s leading scorers averaging 19.7 points a game, alongside almost four assists a game. These efforts would earn him another All-NBL Team nomination putting him in good stead for the upcoming season.

Jae’Sean Tate

On the many occasions Ware has been absent from the floor, Jae’Sean Tate has made a name for himself this season as one of the NBL’s premiere wing players through his athleticism and accuracy. Shooting at a remarkable 66 per cent from the field and averaging 16.4 points per contest, Tate’s offensive prowess was almost unmatched amongst other players in his position. He also made himself known on the glass grabbing 5.8 rebounds per encounter. For a debut season earning an All-NBL First Team selection, he may very well have a stellar career in Australia’s top-flight should he choose to sign an extension with a club that is hungrier than ever for championship success.

Andrew Bogut

Coming off an MVP season in 2018-19, it was going to be hard for Andrew Bogut to improve his game. The 35-year-old took some of the load off himself in NBL 2020, shaving off minutes and points as a result. While Bogut’s numbers might have dwindled, his efficiency remained high, as his field goal percentage went up to 59 from 56 the previous season. He would also go on to average 8.8 rebounds a game, remaining a dominant force in that category and average a modest 8.2 points too.

Because of Bogut’s injury woes this season, the club forced him to manage his output and court-time. This has led the veteran to consider what his future does look like, as he has stated how difficult this season has been on him physically and mentally, so we will have to wait and see what the big man does leading into next season.

The Coach’s corner: Will Weaver

As a result of their disappointing yet necessary series defeat following Game Three, Weaver spoke at length at Triple M on behalf of his side thanking the city, and how lucky he felt to be a part of the process, despite the way the season had ended.

“Thank you guys so much for your support throughout the season and I’m so proud of the city of Sydney and to be a part of this city being embraced the way that we are, and by people that haven’t been a part of our program previously,” he said.

2019/20 NBL season review: Melbourne United

HAVING made the postseason the last two seasons, Dean Vickerman’s Melbourne United was keen to make it three in a row, especially after finishing runners-up to the Perth Wildcats in 2019. But United lacked the pieces to really make a hard championship push throughout the NBL 2020 season, despite ultimately making the final four. Although for some, it was the unlikely heroes that provided the biggest sparks to a team that was quite lucky to make the postseason.

By the skin of their teeth

It was evident that United needed to make their presence known, as they were matched up with league newcomers, the South East Melbourne Phoenix. It was apparent early that the League’s new kids on the block were keen to make waves in the big leagues, as the Phoenix put on a scoring masterclass in the first ever ‘Throwdown’, knocking off United with a hard-fought three-point victory at Melbourne Arena. The misstep of game one of the season kicked off the slowest start to a United campaign in almost a decade, as Melbourne would lose back-to-back games to the reigning premiers and old foes, Perth Wildcats.

Melbourne’s first victory of the 2020 season wouldn’t come until game four, as they edged out a resurging Breakers side thanks to United’s Chris Goulding, Melo Trimble and Shawn Long’s 24 points each in a dominant performance from the trio. United’s 1-4 start to the season was one of the NBL’s biggest talking points in terms of performances, as many basketball punters picked United to be a top two or three team by season’s end.

Following the realisation of their team’s performance, the Black and White would start to pick up steam, kicking off a sizeable six-game winning streak, thereby erasing their horrifying start to the regular season, sitting with a record of seven wins and four losses prior to their eventual loss to the Taipans five days later. An 8-6 record would be the summary of United’s tumultuous first half of the season, in what was starting to be an exciting finish and the start of what would become known as the ‘mid-table logjam’.

Like many other mid-standings teams, Melbourne would undergo both winning and losing streaks in what would be a slow second half of the season, much like their first with a five win and seven loss start with the final round of the season still to play. For United to make the final four, they needed to win both of their remaining games with both contests being at Melbourne Arena.

The first of their two games were against the Taipans, a team that had made dramatic improvements since their previous season, and was also already locked in to finish third, following the remaining games of the season. After a runaway 31-16 fourth quarter and a 5-12 night from behind the arc from Goulding (23 points and four assists), Melbourne would take out the contest 99-83, setting the team up for a must-win final game three days later against the Phoenix.

With the Bullets and the Breakers a win ahead of United, but with Melbourne having a higher percentage, a victory was all that was needed for Vickerman’s men, and unlike their first matchup in the ‘Throwdown’, United would stick to their strengths. Thanks to four players scoring 18 or more points, strong first and last quarters would help United dominate their final game of the season, toppling the Phoenix 109-90, and earning Melbourne their third straight finals appearance.

Buyer Be-WARE

All season long, Sydney’s Casper Ware had been relentless against his old club, controlling the floor at both ends of the floor against Melbourne. However, United would buck that trend as they would inject tactics to limit Ware’s output in their semi-final series against the Kings, as evidenced in Game One. Ware would go 3-14 from the field scoring a mere seven points. But, Will Weaver’s guys would share the load as Jae’Sean Tate, Xavier Cooks and Brad Newley would combine for 53 points, stealing the opening game of the series, 86-80.

When it comes to a three-game series, losing that first game can be exponentially demoralising, as it means it’s a team’s final chance until they are eliminated. But no one expected Melbourne United to do what they would do in their Game Two outing. Over the second and third quarters of Game Two, a 38-0 scoring run would ensue for Melbourne, ultimately leading to an astonishing 50-point lead at one stage. This, coupled with six different individuals reaching double-digit scoring totals and Shawn Long’s impressive 26 point and 11 rebound double-double, would lead to a 125-80 demolition job of this season’s minor premiers, setting the series up for a decisive Game Three back in Sydney.

Game Three of the Kings/United semi-final series would reach its summit in an exciting deciding third game. A strong finish to the first half would have United up by five at the main break. The Kings, however, would crawl back into the fold, going basket for basket with last year’s runners-up until the final two minutes, as Kings’ captain and leader Kevin Lisch would nail a dagger from deep to put the Kings up by two with two minutes remaining. Following Lisch’s three, Tate would drive down the lane to extend his side’s lead by four with a minute and a half left, allowing the Kings to hold on by two (89-87) and end Melbourne’s title run at the end of an enduring series.

Sydney would go onto their team’s first Grand Final appearance since 2008.

United to the end

Chris Goulding

Many had thought that the peak of Chris Goulding’s career had finished three seasons ago when he last averaged 17 points per game. The following two seasons, Goulding had averaged just over 14 points per game which left many fans in limbo, as to whether or not the 31-year-old would remain an integral part of the Melbourne United basketball club.

He would go on to make a statement in regard to this point, averaging more than 17 and a half points per game (the most productive he has been since the 2015-16 NBL season). He would also undertake 31.5 minute per game, a three-and-a-half-minute increase compared to last season. Due to these facts, it is safe to say that the Boomer selectee might still be one of the League’s best shooters, and one that a team could still be based around.

Melo Trimble

When ex-Taipans guard Melo Trimble made his way down to Victoria, Melbourne had that key piece in their backcourt that they needed due to the missing Casey Prather. Trimble for the most part, was consistently putting up 20-point games and a boatload of assists to come along with it. Despite that statistical impact, Trimble would go through struggling times late in the season going through a string of games without making double-digits. Nevertheless, Trimble would regain his form late in the season finishing his second season in the NBL on a high note. He would go on to average 19.4 points per game along with 4.8 assists and 3.4 rebounds.

Shawn Long

While United had plenty of weapons in their backcourt, there remained few in their frontcourt. This meant that the load Shawn Long had to carry was immense throughout the whole season. Long would take on the task with tremendous consistency, earning himself the title ‘Mr. Double-Double’, for his statistical dominance on the scoreboard and the glass. Long would secure 18.1 points per game, finishing amongst the League’s top twenty. He would also claim the rebounding title for the season, leading the entire League in rebounds, with 9.4 per game.

The Coach’s Corner: Dean Vickerman

Despite being rather fragmented as a group for the majority of the season, Vickerman has stated how proud he was of his group and the way they came together, especially in the last portion of their 2020 journey.

Following their elimination, Vickerman voiced his commendation of his group post-game and their resilience in the face of adversity.

“I’m really proud of our group over the last month, and the way that we came together. “We kind of looked at yesterday and said that this was our seventh elimination game and we won five of them,” talking back to their run to the final late in the season. “I loved our mindset and the way we stuck together really well and yeah I’m really proud of them.”

2019/20 NBL title decision: Who should win?

THE National Basketball League (NBL) championship is yet to be decided with the Grand Final Series being abandoned with two games to spare given the coronavirus outbreak. With player welfare at the forefront of the mind, the Sydney Kings decided to call it quits on the remainder of the series and despite the Perth Wildcats leading 2-1 over minor premiers Sydney, the result is yet to be determined. Arguments can be made for both sides in regards to which team should walk away with the title given their impressive seasons. We take a look at the options.

Sydney Kings:

There is no denying that the Kings were the front runners throughout the season, kick-starting their campaign with a seven game winning streak and only dropping a mere eight games for the whole season. They seemed to have all the answers time and time again, with their home court Qudos Bank Arena becoming a real fortress winning a staggering 12 out of 14 games there. Led by big man Andrew Bogut with an average of 8.80 rebounds per game the Kings proved to be too strong with teammate Xavier Cooks also chiming in off the boards to record an average of 9.07 rebounds a game. When it came to scoring, Casper Ware was the go to man, able to hit the scoreboard with ease whether it be from within the paint or beyond the arc with an average of 19.68 points while Jae’Sean Tate also came into his own throughout the season.

Despite their impressive form throughout the home and away season, the Kings looked a bit worse for wear in snippets during the finals, getting smashed by Melbourne United in what was a history making performance by United. While the Kings recovered, ultimately downing their interstate rivals and moving through to the Grand Final Series they have not been able to recapture their signature pressure and winning ways. Ware lost his scoring mojo unable to have his usual influence and while the likes of Kevin Lisch and Brad Newley have stepped up it has not been enough to generate a match winning total.

Perth Wildcats:

Up 2-1 in the Grand Final Series it is almost impossible to rip the trophy away from the reigning premiers who are looking for back-to-back NBL titles. The Wildcats have been red-hot premiership contenders throughout the season pushing teams to their limits and notching up key wins against fellow top four sides. The Wildcats have a wealth of key players but none bigger than powerhouse Bryce Cotton. After playing 27 games throughout the 2019/20 season Cotton was second in the league for points per game with a whopping 22.48 something that he well and truly brought into his finals campaign with the dynamo constantly lighting up the scoreboard. While Terrico White had a quiet year in comparison to his previous ones, the likes of Nick Kay stood up to shoulder the load while recruit Miles Plumlee showed his worth off the backboard.

Renowned for their ability to win at home, sitting at an 11-3 win-loss record Perth often used the crowd at RAC Arena to create an intense atmosphere many opposition sides were fearful of. Although they had not won a final at the venue so far in the Grand Final Series, a home court advantage in Game 4 could have been enough to give them that winning edge and claim premiership glory for consecutive seasons. They have shown that they can it match with the best travelling to Sydney on two occasions and taking down their opponents by three and 15 points respectively in Game 1 and 3.

Perth takes 2-1 lead in Grand Final Series

PERTH Wildcats proved too strong in Game 3 of the National Basketball League (NBL) Grand Final Series running out convincing 15 point winners  over Sydney Kings. The Wildcats edged one game closer to back-to-back championships with 111-96 victory. It was the first time since 1999 that the first three games in a grand final series were won by the visiting team.

As both sides channelled their inner basketball gym memories thanks to the empty seats due to the coronavirus, it was Perth that edged ahead to begin the game. Following the explosive start from Miles Plumlee, earning himself six points, two assists and a couple of blocks within the opening five minutes, the Wildcats finished the quarter holding the Kings to a mere 18 points as they produced 29 of their own, setting the tone early at Qudos Bank Arena.

The second quarter featured a couple of standout performers for the Kings, as three second quarter three-pointers from Brad Newley kept the home side within striking distance, while Jae’Sean Tate made his mark around the rim. Despite these factors, Sydney’s mission to cut the deficit was becoming futile given they had only outscored the Wildcats by one point in the second period, trailing by 10 at the main break.

However, it was in the opening half of the third quarter that Sydney finally made headway, tying up the game off the back of a pull-up three from Kevin Lisch. Nevertheless, that would be as close as Sydney would get to stealing Game 3 from the defending champions thanks to two big three pointers from Nick Kay, who ultimately set himself up for a night to remember. Stretching their lead back out to 14 with ten minutes remaining in the contest, all Trevor Gleeson’s men had to do was conduct their regular brand of basketball to the end, and following an alley-oop jam for Plumlee four seconds into the fourth quarter, it was safe to say Perth would conduct business as usual.

Good shooting from the starters to the bench for the Wildcats would see out a competitive Game 3 winning the contest 111-96, therefore setting up a bid to win the series back in Perth for Game 4. But, given the fact that the home team in all three games thus far has not won yet, it could mean a potential Game 5 if the Kings can pick themselves up. While four out of Sydney’s starting five amassed double-digit numbers, Will Weaver’s men still could not get the job done. Nevertheless, noticeable performances by Tate (20 points and six rebounds) and Newley (19 points and five rebounds) rounded out the Kings’ stat lines. Lisch also made substantial contributions with 16 points, while Casper Ware again struggled from the field with 11 points, going 5-20 (25 per cent) from the field.

For the Wildcats, it was a two man show once again as their NBL First Team stars were the main culprits. Bryce Cotton who shot close to fifty per cent, finished with 31 points, seven assists and seven rebounds in what was an all-around performance from the MVP.

On the other hand, it was a career-high night for Kay, collecting 30 points, 12 rebounds and four assists as he dominated from start to finish from deep. Alongside his numbers, Kay managed seven threes in a dominant performance offensively further solidifying his spot amongst the NBL’s elite. It is the second time in NBL history (first time since 1986) that two teammates have amounted 30 points each in a Grand Final series game (Cotton, 31 and Kay, 30). Good performances from Plumlee (13 points and seven rebounds) and Terrico White (10 points and four assists) aided the away side, while Clint Steindl made his shots count as he summed up his night with 13 points, going three of four from deep.

With Game 4 scheduled for Friday at RAC Arena, Perth has the chance to retain their championship on their home floor, but whether this kicks the Kings into gear and force a deciding Game 5, we will have to find out later this week.

2019/20 NBL Grand Final Game 3 preview: Sydney Kings vs. Perth Wildcats

WITH the National Basketball League (NBL) Grand Final Series tied at one game apiece, Sydney Kings return home to Qudos Bank Arena to take on Perth Wildcats. The former hopes to take control of the home court advantage unlike in the first game, and put themselves in a good position to take out the 2019/20 title – their first since 2007/08 – and stop the Wildcats making it back-to-back titles and their fourth in five years.

Sydney Kings bounced back from a two-point loss here at Qudos Bank Arena, to comfortably account for the Wildcats at RAC Area, 97-83. Andrew Bogut was the star with 19 points, 13 rebounds and two assists in Friday night’s game, making his average for the series 18.5 points, 12.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists to be the leading Grand Final Most Valuable Player (MVP) candidate if the minor premiers get up.

If the Wildcats win overall, it seems fairly straightforward that 2019/20 MVP Bryce Cotton will take out the medal, having no fear here in Sydney after a phenomenal effort of 32 points, six rebounds, four assists and a steal in Game 1. Returning home, Cotton was almost as strong, picking up 27 points, five rebounds, three assists and one steal for an average of 29.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists and one steal across the two games

Other players for the Kings who have been impressive thus far are Kevin Lisch (18.5 points) and Jae’Sean Tate (15.5 points, 5.0 rebounds and 2.0 assists), while Nick Kay (15.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists) has been the sole Wildcat really helping Cotton on the scoring front. Miles Plumlee (8.0 points, 7.5 rebounds) has been strong off the boards but ultimately overwhelmed by Bogut.

In terms of players that need to lift, it is hard to look past Casper Ware and Terrico White for their respective sides. Ware has averaged just 6.5 points, 2.0 rebounds and 2.5 assists, shooting at a woeful 16.7 per cent from the field. For Perth, White has just not been able to get his mojo going, averaging 6.0 points, 3.0 rebounds, 1.0 assists and also holding a lowly 27.8 per cent shooting efficiency.

Looking at overall team statistics, both sides have managed a remarkable 58 defensive rebounds across the two games, though the Kings are much better at second chance points with 26 offensive rebounds compared to the Wildcats’ 12. The turnovers are fairly even with Sydney having two more than Perth (27-25). The Wildcats’ clear strength is their ability to win the ball back and deny the opposition with 16 steals to seven, and nine blocks to three. The Wildcats have also committed more fouls in trying to do so however, recording 40-33 in this series.

Heading into Game 3, the Kings will be favourites to make it back-to-back wins and bounce back from the initial Game 1 loss last week. If Sydney can win, then it puts title favouritism fairly and squarely in the Kings’ court with a guaranteed third home game on offer even if they lose in Perth. For the Wildcats, a win would be instrumental to Perth’s back-to-back chances, because it means the Wildcats have a home game coming up, whereas a loss means they are on the ropes not only having to win at home, but take out the title in a challenging Game 5 here in Sydney.

Bogut stars as Kings level series in empty jungle

ANDREW Bogut has continued his unbelievable form from the first game of the National Basketball League (NBL) Grand Final series to play a starring role in helping his side level the series at one game apiece. Bogut amassed 19 points and 13 rebounds in Sydney Kings’ 97-83 win over Perth Wildcats at RAC Arena in Perth in front of an empty stadium to ensure the Kings headed back home to Qudos Bank Arena back on level terms.

After Perth upset the minor premiers on the road in Game 1, Sydney needed to conjure something special to level the series in the west, and with the threat of the Coronavirus very real and impacting all sports, the NBL made the decision to close off the stadium – and indeed the stadiums for the remainder of the series – to any fans. It meant the home court advantage was effectively mitigated, with only the travel factor the big difference.

The visitors started the game off on the right note with a 31-27 first term, then extended the lead to six by half-time with a strong opening half. Bogut already had a double-double by that stage, with Kevin Lisch also busy at the half, while Bryce Cotton and Nick Kay were the standouts for the Wildcats by the main break. Unsurprisingly, the Wildcats refused to give in and hit back in the third term with a 22-19 quarter to cut the deficit to three heading into the final term. A superb effort by the Kings in the final stanza saw them out run the home team with a 21-10 quarter to secure the 14-point victory, 97-83.

Bogut was the star with his double-double as well as two assists and one steal, shooting 61.5 per cent from the field. He and Lisch (19 points, two rebounds) combined well to get the team going, while leading scorer, Jae’Sean Tate kept the good times rolling with a team-high 20 points, three rebounds and two assists. Helping Bogut off the boards was Xavier Cooks with 10 rebounds to go with his five points and two assists, while Brad Newley had an underrated game of nine points, five rebounds and five assists. Casper Ware was again quiet for the visitors, having the eight points, one rebound, two assists and one steal in he match and shooting just 30 per cent from the field.

There was never any stopping Cotton with the this season’s Most Valuable Player (MVP) putting up a game-high 27 points, as well as five rebounds, three assists and one steal in the loss. The other two prominent scorers were Kay (17 points, seven rebounds) and Clint Steindl (12 points) with the latter coming off the bench to have an impact. Terrico White was quiet for the home side with just five points, three rebounds, while Miles Plumlee still had an impact off the boards but was overshadowed by fellow NBA player, Bogut, recording eight rebounds and six points.

The result means the series is now tied at 1-1 with the third game at Qudos Bank Arena tomorrow night – which will again be empty – before heading back to Perth for the fourth game. If the Wildcats end up winning a second consecutive road game, then they could celebrate back-to-back titles in heir home town, whereas if the Kings get up, then Sydney could steal the title while in Perth.

Cotton’s 32 stuns Kings, Perth leads GF series 1-0

CLOSE to 12,000 people made their way to Qudos Bank Arena to see the two top teams – Sydney Kings and Perth Wildcats – throughout the regular season, battle it out in Game One of this season’s NBL Finals Series.

It was the Kings that struck first as there would open up the first quarter 7-2, but thanks to the work of their leaders in Nick Kay and league Most Valuable Player (MVP) Bryce Cotton, the Wildcats would only trail by a single basket following 10 minutes of play and an entertaining start to the series.

Good shooting by Sydney’s secondary unit was responsible for their good start in the second period as Daniel Kickert, Didi Louzada and Xavier Cooks were culprits in doing this. But offensively, Perth started to find their stride. Finding their way to the basket across the team, the Wildcats were able to edge themselves in front by a point, off the back of a Kaye layup heading into the break.

The home side composed themselves early on in the second half, stringing together a succession of field goals, including a crown raising one-handed jam by Louzada to put the Kings up by 10 with less than three minutes remaining in the third quarter. However, a massive three-pointer by Terrico White, would cut the Kings’ lead from eight to five with only a couple of seconds remaining, giving the Wildcats a little sniff of hope with the final quarter to come.

With both sides trading buckets, the task of getting his side out from under an efficient shooting Sydney Kings outfit, once again fell to their man. Cotton, who was relatively quiet, turned up the heat significantly, alongside new import big-man Miles Plumlee, as they grinded their way back to a late-game lead. To further add insult to injury, Damian Martin, who had yet to make a single field-goal throughout the entire game, gave his side the lead after knocking down a wing triple.

Despite White’s two missed free throws with 11 seconds remaining, missed three-point attempts to win the game by Shaun Bruce and Casper Ware would give the Wildcats the series lead and shift the focus over to Perth for next Friday.

For the Wildcats, a 32-point, six-rebound and four-assist night is becoming pretty standard for Cotton, as he took out Man of the Match honours by a mile, whereas Kay was the next man up with 14 points, six rebounds and three assists. Plumlee provided substantial numbers too, finishing his night with 10 points and seven rebounds.

While Andrew Bogut made his mark through his four quarters of play (18 points, 12 rebounds), it was Ware that was rather unproductive. Shooting 1-14 and going 0-10 from behind the arc, Ware would finish with five points and four assists, encapsulating one of his worst performances of the season. Nevertheless, three other players would finish in double-digits such as Kevin Lisch (17 points), Jae’Sean Tate (11 points) and Bruce (11 points).

With the Kings set to head to Perth in the coming week, Will Weaver and his staff have some serious tactical meetings ahead as one more loss would put them on the brink of a very anti-climactic end to a somewhat successful season.

Kings overcome half-time deficit to book grand final spot

SYDNEY Kings are through to the National Basketball League (NBL) decider for 2019/20 after defeating Melbourne United in a thrilling third and final game in the semi-finals series last night. Back on their home court at Qudos Bank Arena following the debacle that was Game 2 for the Kings, Sydney looked a lot more comfortable and it showed across the court. A number of players who had quiet games in the previous outing stepped up, and with Melbourne also not going down without a fight, it made for some entertaining basketball.

The Kings started off strongly, leading by two points at the first break, before Melbourne showed some of the signs that forced a deciding game in the semi-finals series by dominating the second term, 28-21. Now facing a five-point deficit at the main break, Sydney had to claw its way back into the contest and set up an absolute ripping final term by scoring 23-18 in the third and levelling the scores by the final break buzzer. The lead was never more than four points throughout the tense final 10 minutes of the term, with Sydney always just nudging ahead until a Melo Trimble driving layup put United in front with two minutes, 17 seconds remaining on the clock – the first time the visiting side had been in front since the eight-minute mark of that term.

A three-pointer from Kevin Lisch handed the Kings the lead back with two minutes left, and when Jae’Sean Tate converted his jump shot – following a Trimble miss – the score was 89-85. Shawn Long and Didi Louzada both traded missed three-point opportunities, and United did not hold back in going straight for the win with Trimble and Long both missing a couple more long-range attempts. The pressure in the last 20 seconds was immense with the usually slick Casper Ware and Goulding both coughing up turnovers. Will Weaver made the choice to sub out his scorers of Andrew Bogut, Xavier Cooks and Tate in favour of a more defensive approach with Lisch, Brad Newley and Daniel Kickert all coming in off a timeout with 12 seconds remaining. Melbourne finally broke through in the last second of play with a Mitch McCarron layup but ultimately they needed long-range chances with that effort only bringing the deficit back to two, and with no time left on the clock, Sydney enjoyed a remarkable 89-87 win.

Tate led from the front again and was Sydney’s leading player across the court with 20 points, six rebounds and three assists, whilst Bogut and Cooks got back to their rebounding bests, combining for 24 points and 17 rebounds in the win. Ware finished the match with 15 points and four rebounds, while Louzada also recorded double-figure points with 10, as well as three rebounds. The Kings were tidier when it came to foul trouble, recording 12 less fouls, whilst picking up six more assists and shooting marginally better from the field. For United, it was McCarron whose last bucket moved him up to 18 points on the night to go with five rebounds and two blocks, but they too shared it around, as Chris Goulding (19 points, four assists and two steals), Long (17 points, nine rebounds) and Trimble (17 points, two steals) were all busy.

In the end it was Sydney’s famed depth that got the Kings home, with 32 points coming off the bench. The Kings now begin the best-of-five grand final series against Perth Wildcats with Game 1 at Qudos Bank Arena this Sunday, March 8.

Melbourne-Sydney rivalry continues with grand final spot on the line

WITH the regular season done and dusted, there is no better way to start the playoffs with a classic Melbourne-Sydney rivalry in one semi-final. Every Kings fan still remembers when their head coach, Will Weaver ‘lost his cool’ at the officials, getting himself ejected when these two juggernauts played each other in early November. To say that these teams do not get along is an understatement, and if fans want to see some verbal or maybe physical clashes, look no further than Shawn Long and Andrew Bogut. While Long is a feared defender in this league, Bogut is by all means a different animal. Last year’s MVP, a NBA champion, blocks leader… the resume goes on and on, and in the finals, the referees tend to swallow their whistle, allowing more physicality, which plays into Bogut’s favour considering he is seven-feet tall and strongly-built. There are not many examples of them going at it on the court because of unfortunate foul trouble, however that makes this match up just that much more suspenseful. Although the Kings hold the top seed, United are the more experienced team in the playoffs, coming off a three game win streak, and are known to play their best basketball with their backs against the walls. If you needed any extra bonus to the already extremely intense and unyielding encounter, Casper Ware is playing his former United teammates in a King’s jersey, as Melbourne try and make it back-to-back Semi-Final series wins over Sydney,

A big story for the series will surround Long taking part in his first postseason against a Australian legend. We have seen players just as skilled as Long crumble under less pressure. A big question will be, will Long take the attack to Bogut like he does to every other defender. Long needs to remember that he is a major part of his teams success and that he belongs to be there, going toe to toe with a all time great like Bogut. While Sydney have beaten Melbourne in their last three matches, going to the NBL Finals 2 years straight takes a toll on a team, physically and mentally. If they know they will be one of the final teams come playoffs, sometimes the team might not match the intensity of every other team during the regular season. Don’t think that because this team is 15 and 13, they can’t make some serious noise in the playoffs. But to upset the Kings, who are undeniably the team to beat, they will have to stay level headed. Going into Sydney, the crowd will be as anti-Melbourne as you can find, if United players can cancel out the noise, they might have a shot beating them on their court, which would be massive considering game 2 is a at Melbourne. If Melbourne wants to proceed to the grand final, they are going to have to beat Sydney at least once on their home court, and the first game is as good as any other. 

The key for Sydney beating Melbourne is in the hands of Ware. He has been the best player when these teams go at it in the regular season, and that likely won’t change come playoff time. Melbourne will likely throw fast past defenders his way, starting with Shea Ily and then later Mitch McCarron, always trying to make his shots tough for him. If Bogut was to get into foul trouble early, that would mean United can play their style of shooting the ball at a high volume led by Chris Goulding, with faith that Long can now get the offensive rebounds. Kings will also need to clamp up United’s three biggest 3 natural scorers, Melo Trimble (20 points per game), Goulding (18 ppg) and Long (18ppg), putting pressure on who ever the other two players on the floor are, as they are not that offensively deep. Expect to see former MVP Kevin Lisch playing on United’s leading scorer Goulding. This will be no easy challenge considering Goulding has been on fire recently, coming off a 15 point first quarter against Phoenix. 

This will be another great chapter in the Melbourne Sydney rivalry that has had so many story lines. However, the Kings have been phenomenal all year, thrashing the United in their last three victories. When the tensions are this high from rival cities, and the underdog team needs to win a game in front of a hostile crowd in a best of three, with important players that have not seen the postseason like Long, the odds just might be too much.

NBL 2019/20 Weekend preview: Round 3 – Breakers return to Kings double

THE New Zealand Breakers will make their first appearance in NBL 2019/20 as Round 3 marks the first round all teams will be in action. We take a look at the seven games across the weekend.

SYDNEY KINGS vs. NEW ZEALAND BREAKERS
Friday, October 18, 7.30pm
Qudos Bank Arena

The round opens with the Kings and Breakers going head-to-head in what will be the Breakers’ first NBL 2019/20 match of the season. The Breakers are coming off two games in the United States as part of the NBAxNBL pre-season program, and with the hype surrounding 2020 NBA prospect RJ Hampton, they will be hoping to make a statement against one of the championship favourites. Both the Breakers and Hampton struggled against the Memphis Grizzlies and Oklahoma City Thunder, but a fresh start against the juggernaut that is Sydney could set them on a path to the championship this season. Sydney meanwhile have lived up to expectations so far this season, accounting for both the Taipans and 36ers to open up their 2019/20 season account in ideal fashion. New recruit Casper Ware’s transition from United to the Kings has been the spark the Kings may have needed all along, while Andrew Bogut, Brad Newley and Kevin Lisch have all been outstanding and are a big reason as to why the Kings will go in as favourites to defend their home court tonight.

PERTH WILDCATS vs. CAIRNS TAIPANS
Friday, October 18, 9.30pm
RAC Arena

The Wildcats are one of the three undefeated sides left in the competition and will be favoured to extend that streak when they host the winless Taipans. Unfortunately for the Taipans, after the two rounds they seem to have come back where they left off from last season, which saw them win just six games. They faced the Bullets and Hawks last round, and despite getting smashed by their state rivals, they bounced back strongly against the Hawks and fell by just one point. D.J. Newbill and Majok Deng starred for their side in the loss to the Hawks, and they will need to repeat their strong performances if their side is any chance to knock off the Wildcats at RAC Arena. Bryce Cotton and Terrico White, along with Nick Kay have been standouts for Perth, and all will be looking to feast on the winless Taipans in the later game tonight.

ADELAIDE 36ers vs. BRISBANE BULLETS
Saturday, October 19, 5.30pm
Adelaide Entertainment Centre

The 36ers made their first appearance in NBL 2019/20 last week and will be looking to breakthrough for their first win when they face off against the Bullets. Adelaide fell convincingly to the Kings last weekend but Daniel Johnson and Jerome Randle proved their worth, with Randle marking his return to the 36ers with a strong outing. Both will need to be at their best against the Bullets, who lost their first game of the season against South East Melbourne last Sunday. Brisbane had beaten the Hawks and Taipans in the Bullets’ first two games, but fell to a three-point happy Phoenix who simply torched them to hand them their first loss. Lamar Patterson was the lone star for the Bullets after his 30-point haul against the unbeaten newcomers, and his season has been exceptional to date which he’ll be undoubtedly looking to extend against the 36ers on Saturday afternoon.

SOUTH EAST MELBOURNE PHOENIX vs. ILLAWARA HAWKS
Saturday, October 19, 7.30pm
Melbourne Arena

South East Melbourne will welcome the Hawks for their second home game as the newest NBL side will be looking to extend their unbeaten start to their first season as a club. Thanks to John Roberson’s stellar 30-point outing, which included draining 9-11 from beyond the arc, the Phoenix made light work of the Bullets last weekend to make it two wins from their first two games. Mitch Creek has also been instrumental for the Phoenix, all in the absence of Tai Wesley who’s injury replacement was named early this week as Jeffrey Crockett. The Hawks on the other hand have had a mixed start to their season, losing their first two games before breaking through by a solitary point against the bottom-placed Taipans last Sunday. Todd Blanchfield, Aaron Brooks and AJ Ogilvy all put in big performances to ensure they wouldn’t go into this weekend still without a win, and if they are to upset the unbeaten Phoenix, they will all need to have big outings in Melbourne.

NEW ZEALAND BREAKERS vs. SYDNEY KINGS
Sunday, October 20, 3pm
Spark Arena

The Breakers and Kings will lock horns for the second time this weekend, with the Kings this time having to play away in Auckland at Spark Arena for what will be New Zealand’s first home game of the season. It will also be the Breakers’ second game of the season, and will be hoping the likes of Hampton, Tom Abercrombie and Corey Webster all have strong outings as they’ll be hoping to come away from this weekend with at least one win. For the Kings, they’ll be hoping for a win on their home court on Friday night and that this matchup will mark the opportunity for them to make it four wins from as many games to kick off their season in the perfect way.

MELBOURNE UNITED vs. PERTH WILDCATS
Sunday, October 20, 5pm
Melbourne Arena

United will be looking for their first win of NBL 2019/20 when they host their Wildcats on Sunday. Melbourne hosted their cross-town rivals South East Melbourne in the season opener in Round 1, but they fell by three points and had to face off against two NBA opponents in the NBAxNBL pre-season program last weekend. They lost to both the LA Clippers and Sacramento Kings, but Chris Goulding, Melo Trimble and Shawn Long all impressed across the two games and will be all hoping to build on that to get United’s NBL campaign back on track. For the Wildcats, it will be their second game of the round and if they are to do what is expected and account for the winless Taipans on Friday night, they’ll be hoping for a win against United to extend their unbeaten start to the season to four games.

ILLAWARA HAWKS vs. ADELAIDE 36ERS
Monday, October 21, 7:30pm
WIN Entertainment Centre

In the final game of the round, the Hawks and 36ers lock horns on Monday night in what will be both sides’ second game of the round. The Hawks will be looking for their second win of the season on Saturday night against South East Melbourne, while the 36ers will be looking for their first against the Bullets who they host on Saturday afternoon. Regardless of the results of their early Round 3 matchups, both will be eagerly hoping for a win when they clash on Monday night, as the result of this match presents a great opportunity for both to kickstart their seasons and chase a place in the top four.