The Sydney Kings have won back-to-back NBL championships after beating the New Zealand Breakers 77-69 in a thrilling sudden-death final in Sydney tonight.
It was a deserved victory in an at times ill-tempered game which featured several behavioural warnings for players and coaches alike and a bottle of water thrown by a member of the sold-out crowd at Breakers player Jarrell Brantley at the start of the fourth quarter when the visitors had their noses in front.
The Kings had to come back from a 12-point deficit in the first half and the Breakers had a seven-point lead in the fourth quarter before the home side took the lead with 3 minutes 2 seconds remaining and didn’t look like conceding it.
Xavier Cooks, in foul trouble again, and Derrick Walton Jr, along with Angus Glover, the latter playing in pain with a rib injury, were too hot to handle for a Breakers team who battled manfully throughout and with no shortage of skill in the first half.
Breakers guard Barry Brown Jr top scored for the game with 22 points but with Will McDowell-White not as influential as he would have liked in the fourth quarter, the onus was on Brown Jr to carry the offence and in the end it was too much.
They lacked a bit of quality under the rim as the Kings rode their momentum and the mounting excitement of the more than 18,000 in the crowd at the Qudos Bank Arena, an NBL attendance record.
It is the fifth title for the defending champions.
It was a battle of the league’s two top teams and while the Kiwi team ultimately failed in their goal to extend their own championships record to five, it remains a remarkable achievement for them to make game five of the finals series after finishing dead last in 2022.
It was also presumably the final NBL game for Breakers captain Tom Abercrombie, who played superbly on defence against particularly Cooks and Walton Jr (the series MVP) – a difficult double act to contend with.
The Breakers got as good a start to the game as they could have hoped. With McDowell-White and Dererk Pardon causing problems for the Kings defence, and the home side getting into foul trouble early – giving up seven fouls to four – coach Mody Maor would have been thrilled.
Shooting eight from 12 from the field for a 66 per cent success rate (compared with the Kings’ 38 per cent), the Breakers took a 22-11 lead at the first quarter.
The Breakers were accurate and compact, seemingly taking their momentum from last Sunday’s crucial victory at Spark Arena into this one.
The Kings’ inevitable comeback came in the second quarter when they outscored the Breakers 24-14 to take a narrow 36-35 deficit to halftime, the Breakers shooting only 37 per cent from the field.
The third quarter has been problematic for the Breakers in this series but here they put in their best – scoring-wise – of the championships when outscored by only one point.
With Glover clearly nursing an injury, and the Breakers holding a seven-point lead in the fourth quarter, hopes would have been high among the visitors down the stretch, but they were overwhelmed by the Kings in the final three minutes.
Brantley chipped in with 16 points and McDowell-White 12, but as a collective the Breakers went a little cold when it counted.
Despite the disappointment, as Abercrombie said afterwards: he and his teammates have put the Breakers back in a good place.