NBL21: Sydney Kings keep slim finals hopes alive with win over Tyler Harvey-less Illawarra Hawks
The Sydney Kings will cross their fingers for two South East Melbourne Phoenix losses after keeping their slim NBL Finals hopes alive with victory over Illawarra Hawks.
With Hawks’ superstar Tyler Harvey a shock late injury omission, the Kings handled coach Brian Goorjian’s rotating cast with a late flurry to register a character-building 79-73 win.
To book a spot in the playoffs, the Kings now need to defeat Brisbane Bullets on Saturday and hope the Phoenix fall to both New Zealand Breakers the same day and then to the Bullets on Tuesday in the last game of the season.
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Brutish import Jarell Martin monstered the Hawks’ frontcourt, with 23 points and feasted on the glass, tearing down 10 rebounds in another double-double performance that franked the big import’s former NBA credentials.
In fact, it was the big men who did all the work for the Kings, Martin ably supported by the energetic Xavier Cooks (19 points, 10 rebounds), who had his best game since returning from injury, and Jordan Hunter (15 points, 7 rebounds).
Sydney opened the game in a blaze of glory, scoring the first eight points as Illawarra struggled to adjust without their talisman.
But The Hawks rolled out a small ball line-up to start the second quarter to devastating effect, erasing a six-point deficit to take the lead in the space of two-and-a-half minutes.
The Kings regrouped, pumping it in to Martin and Cooks — who also took it outside, making a three-ball each to establish a seven-point halftime buffer.
The never-say-die Hawks refused to go away, chipping away at the Kings and riding an 11-0 run to the three-quarter-time lead. They held Martin scoreless in the quarter.
It set up a frantic last quarter and the Kings simply would not be denied.
Xavier Cooks corner three with a tick over two-and-a-half minutes to go killed the game off — and he let a yelling Goorjian know all about it, the pair coming into contact as the King celebrated on his way back to the defensive end.
Illawarra did it by committee, Sam Froling, Isaac White and Emmett Naar each scoring 12.
He’s known for being an innovator and unconventional at times, but Illawarra coach Brian Goorjian raised plenty of eyebrows when the game started and Harvey was rooted to the bench.
Harvey was listed to start, but Naar took the court in the American star’s stead.
It was later revealed Harvey had suffered a “slight cork”. The Hawks decided to err on the side of caution and hold him out of the game.
Goorjian, of course, said it was all part of the plan.
“Fourth game in eight days, we secured a playoff spot, the finals are coming, it’s that time,” Goorjian said.
“He’s banged up, he’s carrying a Bryce Cotton load and just would be stupid tonight.”
To underline how important Harvey is to this team, the Hawks started the game ice cold, missed their first six shots and took nearly four minutes to get on the board.
Like the Kings, Illawarra will be barracking against South East Melbourne.
The Hawks, who finished the season with a 20-16 record, stormed home like a steam train, winning eight of their last 10 to book a 21st straight playoff run for Goorjian.
But the loss snapped a five-game winning streak and the Hawks now need the Phoenix to lose both their remaining games to hold on to third spot.
It’s a remarkable renaissance under the legendary coach, considering the Hawks finished bottom of the NBL table, with just five wins, last season.
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