Hawks leave Kings’ NBL finals hopes hanging by a thread

Jasper Bruce |

Sharp-shooting Tyler Harvey (r) had 19 points for the Hawks as they downed the Sydney Kings 106-95.
Sharp-shooting Tyler Harvey (r) had 19 points for the Hawks as they downed the Sydney Kings 106-95.

Sydney’s NBL finals hopes are hanging by a thread after their loss to Illawarra, who moved closer to a fairytale post-season berth with a 106-95 victory at Qudos Bank Arena.

The Kings’ seventh loss from nine starts pushes the back-to-back champions out of the all-important top six heading to the final round of the regular season.

To make the Play-In Tournament from here, other results must fall Sydney’s way, and they almost certainly need to beat last-placed South East Melbourne on the road next weekend.

That will be easier said than done, considering an undermanned Phoenix defeated Sydney less than three weeks ago.

“That was about as must-win as it gets for us and we just didn’t come to the table,” Kings centre Jordan Hunter said after Sunday’s loss.

The fourth-placed Hawks can confirm their own play-in spot by beating either of competition heavyweights Perth or Melbourne United in the final weekend of the regular season.

Action from Sydney Kings vs Illawarra Hawks in NBL.
Gary Clark (8) hit two three-pointers during a first-quarter run that put the Hawks in control. (Mark Evans/AAP PHOTOS)

Illawarra could still make the post-season if they lost both, pending other results.

Such an outcome would be quite the turnaround for the Hawks, who sacked Jacob Jackomas and appointed Justin Tatum to his first professional head-coaching job after a 2-7 start to the season.

“Everybody in the NBL has doubted us from the jump,” Tatum said.

“We sit at home, we watch other games and we hear that the top six is going to be everyone but us.

“So our motivation is major, because the only people who believe in us is Illawarra and us in that locker room. That’s all the motivation that we need.”

Former NBA forward Gary Clark (22 points, seven rebounds) hit two three-pointers in an 11-0 first-quarter run that put the Hawks in control on Sunday.

That advantage had blown out to 20 points early in the second before Denzel Valentine (21 points, five rebounds, four assists) inspired the Kings to their own 11-0 streak.

But with a tight zone defence and better effort on the glass, Illawarra pulled the Kings back whenever they kicked away.

Justin Tatum.
Justin Tatum, guiding his Hawks on Sunday, says they have a the self-belief to make the playoffs. (Mark Evans/AAP PHOTOS)

Sharp-shooting Tyler Harvey had 15 points by halftime and finished with 19, including four three-pointers.

Sydney hit only two of their first nine attempts from the field in the third quarter as they sought to close the gap.

The usually cool-headed Jaylen Adams (18 points, seven assists) missed an open lay-up that could have cut the lead to 10 points later in the period. 

Still appearing hampered by his shoulder injury, DJ Hogg (11 points, eight rebounds) began to fire at the start of the fourth quarter but it proved too little too late for the Kings.

“(The Hawks) were more prepared, they played harder and they deserved to win today,” said Kings coach Mahmoud Abdelfattah.