Kings beat Phoenix by four in NBL thriller

Darren Snowdon
Casper Ware (R) has starred late to lead Sydney to a four-point NBL win over South East Melbourne

Sydney remain on top of the NBL ladder, surviving a spirited second-half fightback from South East Melbourne to claim a 90-86 NBL victory.

The NBL frontrunners maintained their stellar start to the season at Melbourne Arena on Saturday as they won their 10th game in 11 starts, extending their unbeaten streak to four matches.

But it was not without drama as the Phoenix came back from 20 points down in the third quarter to take a one-point lead after John Roberson gave the home side their first lead of the game with 48 seconds left.

Casper Ware answered with a baseline jumper to put the Kings back in front and Jae'sean Tate added a free throw for an 88-86 advantage, before stopping the Phoenix on their final possession and Ware icing the game from the foul line.

Ware finished with a team-high 25 points, while Tate made a series of crucial baskets in the fourth quarter on his way to 24 points and eight rebounds.

"We knew they were a hard-working team and that they were going to make a push," Tate said after the Phoenix chased down Sydney's lead in the second half.

"I think we could have done a better job but, at the end of the day, we got the win so we'll take it."

The Phoenix came into the match as the league's leading long-distance shooting team, but Sydney's perimeter defence held them to one three-pointer from six attempts in the first half.

The Kings' playmakers also came to the fore as Ware and Andrew Bogut combined for 19 points in the second quarter as Sydney outscored the Phoenix 30-18 to lead by 18 at halftime.

South East Melbourne made a dramatic comeback with a 28-12 surge in the third quarter, Roberson piling on 15 to cut the margin to two.

But despite Roberson's 25 points and a 20-point, seven-rebound effort from Mitch Creek, the Phoenix could not avoid falling to a third-successive loss.

"All in all, though, I'm really proud of the way that we stuck with it," coach Simon Mitchell said after his side's late comeback fell short.

"It's pretty easy to roll over when you've got the big dogs in town and you're down 20 odd and things aren't going your way."

Ware and Tate looked dangerous early as Sydney won the opening quarter 25-19, the home side unable to capitalise on their 15-8 rebounding advantage.

Bogut made his presence felt in the second period with nine points and a spectacular block on former Kings teammate Kyle Adnam to set up a Didi Louzada dunk and a 47-31 advantage.

The Kings led 55-37 at halftime and opened the scoring in the second half but, with Roberson finding his range from deep and Creek attacking the basket, the Phoenix came roaring back to trail 67-65 with one quarter to play.