The offence was clicking but it was the Sydney Kings’ suffocating defence which set up Monday night’s 90-73 thrashing of rivals Illawarra at Qudos Bank Arena.
Trailing by four late in the first half, Sydney turned the game on its head with renewed attention to defence, choking the life out of the Hawks with a devastating 31-6 run.
The Kings took a 53-45 lead into half-time and mercilessly took control with a whopping 11 steals in the third period – believed to be an NBL record for most steals in a quarter.
“At half-time it was a matter of which team was going to apply defensive pressure, but I never thought we’d crank it up to the level we did,” Sydney coach Andrew Gaze said post-game.
“I’m happy with the win but I was a little disappointed in the last quarter. It would’ve been nice to finish with a bit more polish.”
Sydney’s fourth straight win came two days after the club shored up their backcourt with the signing of guard Steve Blake, a veteran of 923 NBA games.
And it only gets better with the playing roster set to be further strengthened by centre Julian Khazzouh’s imminent return from a 10-month injury layoff.
No wonder Sydney fans are excited.
Last season the Kings were cursed by injuries to key players, finishing dead last with a franchise-low six wins.
They have almost equalled that total after the first three rounds of 2016/17.
Forward Brad Newley chalked up 20 points, guard Jason Cadee (14) continued his sparkling form, while Kevin Lisch was simply superb with 19 points, eight rebounds and a career-high six steals.
Sydney finished with a club-record 18 steals as a team.
AJ Ogilvy led the Hawks with 20 points and Rotnei Clarke had 12.
Ogilvy was active at both ends and paced the Hawks early with nine of their first 13 points.
Cadee and Newley were in an aggressive mood, ensuring the Kings matched the visitors’ hot start.
The pace was frenetic and the lead changed hands several times in the opening period before unsung Sydney swingman Dion Prewster hit a three in the closing seconds to give his side a 25-23 quarter-time lead.
The visitors forged ahead 33-29 with a 7-0 run, but Cadee connected on a three and Newley made 1/2 free throws to tie the game with six minutes left in the half.
The Hawks pulled ahead by four again before Sydney seized the momentum, closing with a 13-3 run to take a 53-45 lead into the locker room.
Cadee and Lisch combined for 23 points, while Ogilvy led Illawarra with 15.
Both teams made an impressive 56 per cent of their shots, including a collective 13/27 from three-point range.
Lisch ruined the Hawks’ plans for a positive start to the second half when he splashed back to back threes early in the third quarter, adding three steals and two assists in the third term alone as the Kings surged to a commanding 66-47 lead.
Illawarra struggled time and again to get a decent offensive look against Sydney’s scrambling defence – which has forced a total of 54 total turnovers from their past three games – and the margin continued to swell, blowing out to 78-51 at three-quarter time.
“It’s one of the worst performances by any team I’ve ever coached,” Hawks coach Rob Beveridge said.
“We all need to have a hard look at ourselves in the mirror – myself included – because we laid down tonight and it’s unacceptable.”
The Hawks are at home against reigning champions Perth on Friday night and play their fourth game in nine days on Sunday when they host Cairns.
Hawks fans, we need you to get behind the team and help them back into the winners circle, tickets from ticketmaster.
SYDNEY KINGS 90 (Newley 20, Lisch 19, Cadee 14)
ILLAWARRA HAWKS 73 (Ogilvy 20, Clarke 12, Kay 6)