Kings sur­vive Ball break­out

Mercury (Hobart) - - SPORT - MATT EN­CAR­NA­CION

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 yes­ter­day sur­passed the record of 17,143 set in 1999 at a dou­ble­header at the same venue.

This time, fans flocked to watch 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 ei­ther scor­ing or as­sist­ing on 15 points of a 20-10 run that gave Illawarra the lead. Ball fin­ished with 16 points on 7-19 shoot­ing, in­clud­ing 1-5 from dis­tance to go with eight re­bounds, six as­sists and zero turnovers.

But it wasn’t enough to pre­vent the Kings main­tain­ing top spot on the ta­ble, and re­main the only team un­beaten at home this sea­son.

And while Ball had fouled out late in the con­test, his per­for­mance 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 David­ver­sus-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 and will to steal the lead mid­way through the third quar­ter.

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.

Over in WA, the Perth Wild­cats were too strong for the NZ Break­ers, winning 88-77 at RAC Arena.

The Break­ers were with­out re­cruit Glen Rice Jnr, who was stood down by Bas­ket­ball Aus­tralia fol­low­ing a mid-week in­ci­dent in an Auck­land bar.

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