Hawks move to fourth after beating Bullets

ONE of the biggest stories of the 2023/24 National Basketball League (NBL) season has been the resurgence of the Illawarra Hawks, which continued on Saturday evening with a win over the Brisbane Bullets.

In one of the most exciting seasons in league history, each game could see a side move drastically in the standings. The match at WIN Entertainment Centre had plenty of importance for the two teams, with both sides looking to stay in touch with the top four.

Despite trailing heading into the final term, Illawarra flicked a switch in the fourth, completely restricting Brisbane on the defensive end and storming home to a 13-point win. Remarkably, it puts the Hawks into fourth spot on the ladder, which seemed like a far cry a couple of months ago when the team had just two wins next to its name.

Illawarra Hawks (89) def. Brisbane Bullets (78)

It was a relatively even start to the match with neither side able to break free. With the two teams trading baskets, neither the Bullets nor the Hawks were able to take control of the match, as the momentum switched frequently. At the end of the first period, Illawarra held a slim four-point buffer on the scoreboard.

The arm wrestle continued into the second quarter, although the baskets flowed more freely, with a combined 54 points scored for the term. The excitement peaked when two Next Stars combined in arguably the play of the season.

Illawarra guard AJ Johnson got the ball at the top of the three-point line, and stormed towards the rim. However, in his way was seven-foot-four Bullets Next Star Rocco Zikarsky, who is more than capable of disrupting every drive. Instead, Johnson used his freakish athletic ability to absorb the contact when Zikarsky jumped, and threw down a powerful posterizing dunk, sparking the Hawks and the entire arena as a whole.

Despite trailing by six at the main change, the Bullets turned things around with a 22-12 third period, firing after half time and snatching control of the match. Given the tight nature of the contest in the first half, it looked to be a match-winning run, but the Hawks had other plans.

A dominant 27-10 final term was the deciding period of the contest, with the home side taking the game by the neck and delivering a powerful 10 minutes of play, one that would have alarmed the remainder of the league on the eve of the postseason.

Illawarra import Gary Clark was again his side’s best, posting a big double-double of 19 points and 10 rebounds. He was the standout in what was an excellent team performance, and has built nicely as the season has rolled on.

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