Sydney Kings win NBL title by beating NZ Breakers
Coach Chase Buford won't call it a dynasty yet, but the Sydney Kings have defended their NBL title by defeating the New Zealand Breakers 77-69 in the fifth and last game of the championship series in Sydney.
In front of the largest NBL crowd in history - 18,124 - NBA-bound forward Xavier Cooks had his best game of the series to help the Kings fight back from 12 points down in the first half and seal victory with an 18-3 run late.
For masterminding the Kings' attack from the back-court, guard Derrick Walton Jr. was awarded the Larry Sengstock Trophy as MVP of one of the closest NBL championship series in history.
The victory confirms back-to-back titles for the Kings, who were the NBL's most consistent team this season despite significant roster changes in the off-season.
"Last year was kind of a crescendo towards the end, this was a grind, this whole year," Buford said.
"We started the year pretty well and then we had a little lull towards the end and I was wondering if we were ever going to find ourselves again.
"Three games out of the five-game series, these guys found a way to drag us across the line."
Despite the trophy, Buford was hesitant to declare the Kings were in the midst of an NBL dynasty.
"We're in the middle of a back-to-back, that's what I'm worried about tonight," Buford said.
The win put paid to a Breakers fairytale - New Zealand spent the whole of last season on the road due to COVID-19 and finished bottom of the ladder - as they were denied the chance to write the final chapter in their rag-to-riches story under rookie coach Mody Maor.
"This hurts deeply," Maor said.
"I really felt that this team could have done it, crossed the line.
"We didn't play well enough in the last quarter in order to do that."
The Breakers were quicker to come out of the blocks, leading by as many as 11 points in the first quarter and doing well to muscle the Kings out of the paint and force them into low-percentage shots.
An Angus Glover triple towards the end of the second quarter gave the Kings the lift they needed and began one of the great performances of the night - Glover played through an apparent rib injury to finish with 12 points and nine rebounds.
"He's always been a team-first guy," Walton said.
Kept quiet in game four, Cooks (19 points, 11 rebounds) made his last game before joining the NBA's Washington Wizards one to remember and began to work his way into the contest in the second period. He charged through the paint to beat the buzzer and cut the margin to only one point at half-time.
A jump shot from Walton (team-high 21 points, six assists) gave the Kings their first lead since early in the first quarter but New Zealand imports Barry Brown Jr. (22 points) and Jarrell Brantley (16 points, four rebounds) kept them from running away.
The scores were tied at 56 at the final change and as tensions rose, players appealed to the referees after a water bottle was thrown from the crowd onto the court.
New Zealand captain Tom Abercrombie fouled out with three minutes and the Kings went on a 14-point scoring run as Cooks tightened his grip on his opposite man Brantley.
A Walton jump shot in the final minute put the margin at six, forcing a Breakers timeout before the Kings enjoyed a thrilling victory.