Kings thump Phoenix, beat Bullets to NBL Finals berth

Murray Wenzel |

Phoenix player Reuben Te Rangi (left) had his hands full with Sydney Kings star Jaylen Adams.
Phoenix player Reuben Te Rangi (left) had his hands full with Sydney Kings star Jaylen Adams.

Sydney have trounced a sorry South East Melbourne in historic fashion to leapfrog Brisbane and keep their two-time NBL championship defence alive.

The Kings’ 122-67 win at John Cain Arena on Saturday means they’ll finish either fifth or six, depending on the final game of the regular season between Adelaide and the New Zealand Breakers on Sunday.

The 55-point margin is a record for the Kings and the biggest since NBL games were reduced to 40 minutes in 2009, while their total is the highest of the season.

That’s despite their rocky 3-7 run into the finals attracting its share of criticism, coach Mahmoud Abdelfattah adamant they’re now armed for a finals charge.

“We’ve got the most championships experience of anyone in the league,” he said.

“We play like this, we’re going to be tough.

“It’s been fun; I’m glad we’re part of the final six and we’ll see what happens from here.”

Injury-hit Phoenix (10-18) limped through the final stages of the season to collect the wooden spoon in Mike Kelly’s first season back as an NBL head coach.

On Friday the Bullets could have taken the Kings out of the picture, but they lost in Auckland and were left relying on a Phoenix upset to book just their second finals campaign in eight seasons since their league return.

It was a one-basket game midway through the first quarter on Saturday before a 17-point run saw the Kings build a 20-point lead at the break and put the Bullets out of their misery.

The Kings and Brisbane both finished with 13-15 records, but the Sydney’s superior percentage boosted them into a sudden death Play-In Qualifier against either the Breakers (13-14) or Illawarra (14-13).

Their opponent will be determined on Sunday, when the Hawks also host Melbourne United.

The winner moves on to a Play-In Game against the loser of third and fourth place in the Seeding Qualifier.

The winner of the Play-In Game meets second-placed Perth in a three-game Play-Off Series.

Minor premiers Melbourne United wait in the other Play-Off Series to decide the other finalist. 

Jaylen Adams (24 points, nine assists) had 17 first-half points and four assists to set the tone on Saturday, but he didn’t relent after the interval.

With a 36-point lead, Adams deflected a Phoenix pass, then won the sprint to the loose ball and made a lay-up as the Kings led 92-56 at three-quarter time.

Denzel Valentine (17 points, eight rebounds, four assists) and DJ Hogg (25 points, seven rebounds) dominated at both ends.

Rookie Alex Toohey (16 points, six rebounds) also earned high praise from his coach for his NBA-calibre skills, intelligence and maturity as he contemplates entry into the next draft.

Phoenix captain Mitch Creek managed 27 minutes despite still clearly being hobbled by injury.

“Tonight’s game was tough, Sydney was really good and we didn’t respond,” coach Kelly said.

“A rough way to finish the season … the dam wall burst.”