Kings survive Ball breakout
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.