Record NBL crowd watches Kings edge Hawks

Matt Encarnacion
Sydney's Daniel Kickert has sunk two long-range bombs in his 150th NBL game in a win over Illawarra

The biggest crowd in NBL history has watched Sydney survive a third-quarter explosion from LaMelo Ball to claim a 92-87 victory over Illawarra.

The 17,513 at Qudos Bank Arena in the harbour city on Sunday surpassed the record of 17,143 set in 1999 at a double-header at the same venue.

"It's a big symbol of what we're trying to do, get people excited about basketball and help people that are already excited about basketball understand there's great things to watch here," Kings coach Will Weaver said.

This time, fans flocked to watch the league-leading Kings take on a last-placed Hawks side boasting a projected NBA No.1 draft pick in Ball.

The 18-year-old had a quiet first half but erupted in the third period by scoring or assisting on 15 points of a 20-10 run that gave Illawarra the lead.

Ball eventually finished with 16 points on 7-19 shooting, including 1-5 from distance to go with eight rebounds, six assists and just one turnover.

The Kings eventually overpowered their NSW rivals to maintain top spot on the table, and remain the only team unbeaten at home in the league.

And while Ball eventually had fouled out late in the contest, his display shows why the league has enjoyed a boom in crowds and television ratings in 2019-20.

Sydney were paced by imports Jae'Sean Tate (24 points on 9-12 shooting), as well as Casper Ware (21 points on 7-19 shooting with six assists).

Hawks swingman Todd Blanchfield led his team with 22 points.

Billed as a David-versus-Goliath clash by Illawarra coach Matt Flinn in the build-up, it was the underdogs who threw the first stone for a 28-24 first-quarter lead.

Ball was busy early, dishing three assists and grabbing four rebounds, as well as sinking a long-range bomb that drew some praise from the crowd.

However, Sydney picked up the pace in the second period on the back of their bench, with 150-game celebrant Daniel Kickert nailing two from distance.

Ball changed tack after the resumption, showcasing his elite handling to get into the paint at will to almost single-handedly steal the lead midway in the third.

It was only when the classy point guard picked up his fourth personal foul on a controversial offensive flop that Sydney were able to stem the tide.

However, the Kings had too much firepower, with timely buckets from Tate and Ware keeping the Hawks at arm's length the rest of the way.

"Bitterly disappointed on one hand that we didn't get the win because, at 2-7, we've set our goals to really chip away at this and climb," Hawks coach Matt Flinn said.

"And I thought we did enough tonight to do that. It didn't happen for us but extremely proud of us but extremely proud of them."