Kings crush Phoenix to keep title defence alive

BACK-TO-BACK NBL champions the Sydney Kings kept their hopes of a three-peat alive after grabbing a 2023/24 Play-In Tournament Finals spot with a 55-point shellacking of South East Melbourne Phoenix. A wounded Phoenix was always going to be against the odds taking on a hungry and determined Kings outfit, but few would have seen the 122-67 result coming at John Cain Arena.

It was one-sided from the first tip-off and never really looked like being a contest with the Kings racing out to a 20-point lead at the first break. Scoring only 14 points in the first term and allowing 34 on defence, the home side looked like a sorry team waiting to get to the 2023/24 finish line.

To South East Melbourne’s credit, the second term saw a greater competitive effort by adding 25 points itself, while conceding less points (29) to trail by 24 points at the main break. That relief was short lived with the bleeding only temporarily stemmed.

The second half proved to be a completely one-sided affair much like the first term, piling on a whopping 59 points to 28, finishing off with a 30-11 final term that was one point shy of matching the Kings’ first quarter efforts. In the end, the 122-67 result was emphatic and secured the visitors a spot in this year’s playoffs.

Statistically, the Kings owned every imaginably area. Shooting at a mind-boggling 60 per cent from the field – including 68 and 44 from inside and outside the arc respectively – the Kings’ numbers far exceeded the Phoenix’s woeful 32 per cent from the field. Incredibly, both teams fired off 80 shots, but it was accuracy that was the key, with Sydney making 48 compared to South East Melbourne’s 26.

Also boasting a plus-18 rebound count (52-34), plus-13 assist count (26-13) as well as double the points in the paint (64-32) and second chance points (25-13), there was no shortage of evidence as to how the Kings won by so much.

On an individual level, it was Jaylen Adams (24 points, nine assists, four rebounds and two steals) and DJ Hogg (25 points, seven rebounds and two assists) who did the bulk of the damage for the visitors. Denzel Valentine (17 points, eight rebounds and four assists) and Alex Toohey (16 points, six rebounds) also stepped up throughout the contest, while Jaylin Galloway came off the bench to score 17 points in 19 minutes and also pick up four rebounds.

Youngster Owen Foxwell was a rare shining light for the Phoenix, coming off the bench for 16 points in 22 minutes, while collecting four rebounds, three assists and one steal in his time on court. Captain Mitch Creek tried hard on an inexperienced side, finishing with 13 points and three rebounds.

The 55-point win was the Kings’ largest in franchise history, as well as the biggest since the competition moved to 40-minute matches. While it means the Kings leapfrogged Brisbane Bullets into the NBL Finals, it also resulted in the Phoenix collecting the wooden spoon in Mike Kelly’s first season back as head coach.

The Kings will have to go the long route if they are to lift a third consecutive title, taking on the New Zealand Breakers in the Play-In match, only to then face the loser of Tasmania JackJumpers and Illawarra Hawks to reach the playoffs.

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