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Breakers centre Dererk Pardon goes up for the dunk in the deciding NBL finals game against Sydney.
At Qudos Bank Arena, Sydney: Sydney Kings 77 (Derrick Walton Jr 21, Xavier Cooks 19, Angus Glover 12, Kouat Noi 11), NZ Breakers 69 (Barry Brown Jr 22, Jarrell Brantley 16, Will McDowell-White 12). 1Q: 11-22; HT: 35-36; 3Q: 56-56. Sydney win championship series 3-2.
It was a game too far, and certainly a final quarter too far, for the New Zealand Breakers in Sydney on Wednesday night as they were denied a fifth NBL championship by a Kings team who found the winning formula when it mattered most.
The Kings triumphed in this game-five grand final decider, in front of an NBL record crowd of 18,149 at their Qudos Bank Arena stronghold, because they held their nerve when it mattered most and had the legs down the stretch, going on a 14-0 run over the back half of the final term to establish a game-winning break after the scores had been locked (56-56) at the final break.
The Breakers had looked in a degree of control early in the final stanza, leading by seven (66-59) with 7 minutes remaining on a Dererk Pardon dunk. At that stage they looked to have the energy, and the urgency, to go all the way. But from there Mody Maor’s shortened rotation hit the wall, going scoreless for five and a-half minutes, and managing just 3 points over the final 7 minutes, as the Kings rattled off those 14 straight points to take a game-winning 73-66 advantage that they held comfortably to the finish.
* Sydney Kings coach Chase Buford fined for slamming officials after loss to Breakers
* ‘Big shot’ Barry Brown Jr ready to rise up for NZ Breakers in NBL finals decider
* Will McDowell-White the talisman as NZ Breakers head to NBL championship decider
The deserved victory, behind 21 points from star point guard Derrick Walton Jr and 19 points and 11 rebounds from the NBA-bound Xavier Cooks, made it back-to-back championships for the Kings, and five titles all told. They also got a courageous 12 points off the bench from Angus Glover, who shook off a sternum injury to make some big plays down the stretch, including a remarkable dunk off his own 3-point miss that hit the side of the backboard, and 11 points (on 4-of-4 shooting) from ultra-aggressive backup forward Kouat Noi.
The Breakers were paced by Barry Brown Jr’s 22 points, on 8-of-18 shooting, and 4 rebounds, but there was an over-reliance on the playmaking guard late in the piece and it cost them dearly as their scoring dried up. Jarrell Brantley chimed in with 16 points and 4 rebounds and Will McDowell-White contributed 12 points, 8 rebounds and 5 assists.
The Kiwi club went just 6 of 23 from deep and shot a sub-par 40% (25 of 61) from the floor overall. They managed just 13 points in the final term on 5 of 17 shooting.
Pardon finished with 9 points and 9 boards in a busy display and Izayah Le’afa chipped in 8 points for the Breakers who just could not find the basket when it mattered with the game on the line. But Maor relied heavily on his top seven players, with Cam Gliddon (5:39) and Rayan Rupert (2:03) the only others to see action, and it cost them in the end.
After a tempestuous lead-in, that included Kings coach Chase Buford once again accusing the Breakers of playing too rough, and suggesting the Kiwi club got a leg up from the officiating to win game four at Spark on Sunday – for which he was fined A$3500 – it was almost a relief to get hoops again and get this thing decided on the court, and not on social media, or in ill-tempered press conferences.
The Breakers then made the perfect start in front of the capacity crowd at Qudos – smashing the NBL record for attendance over a five-game series – making 8 of 12 first-quarter shots to work out to a double-digit lead (22-11) by the first break, behind 8 opening-term points from Brown and 5 points, 3 boards and a pair of assists from McDowell-White.
But the Kings roared back in the second term behind 10 points (all in the quarter) from Cooks and 7 from Walton as the home side won the spell 24-14 and kept the Kiwi club to just 5 of 15 shooting. The Breakers got 11 first-half points from Brantley and 9 from McDowell-White but had some momentum to regain after the halftime break with just a one-point (36-35) lead.
It stayed tight in the third, with the teams trading buckets and the scores staying close throughout, with Cooks continuing to build his score (to 16 points) but also picking up his fourth foul and Le’afa and Brown keeping things ticking over for the visitors. It was no surprise whatsoever to see the scores locked at 56-56 at the final break.
Just hours before tipoff, Breakers owner Matt Walsh was sanctioned and fined $1500 for breaching the NBL code of conduct for a tweet he made about the officiating during game three of the championship series. The club also received a formal warning over a tweet from its account about the refereeing in the same game.