Kings stunned in New Year’s Eve boilover
THE Illawarra Hawks have pulled off the upset of the NBL season by stunning the Sydney Kings 85-80 in a thrilling last-versus-first clash on New Year's Eve in Wollongong.
Illawarra were without injured star LaMelo Ball, but it mattered little as Josh Boone scored a season-high 21 points to lead his team to a memorable victory.
The former NBA centre was well-supported by guard Emmett Naar (16 points, eight assists) and captain Todd Blanchfield (12 points).
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The Kings were in control for most of Tuesday's contest before the Hawks went on an 18-5 run to dramatically steal the lead in the final quarter.
Sydney made a couple of pushes at the death, and had a chance to reclaim the advantage in the final minute, only for Casper Ware to miss from long-range.
Naar then showed plenty of composure to nail three free throws in the final ten seconds to seal the win.
Sydney was paced by import Jae'Sean Tate, who had 23 points, however Ware was limited to eight points on 3-15 shooting, and five turnovers.
More importantly the defeat for the Kings, who have led the competition for the entire season, opens the door for Perth to claim top spot on New Year's Day.
Veteran Hawks forward Tim Coenraad, making his 300th NBL appearance, had the raucous 5,064 crowd going early when he connected on his first three shots of the night.
But the Kings, who came in as the league's second-worst team from outside the arc, came out just as hot, nailing 7 of 11 from distance for a ten-point quarter-time lead.
The home team responded in the second period, building a 12-2 run to rattle Sydney and level the scores.
However the Kings turned to their long-range snipers, led by Daniel Kickert and Shaun Bruce, to claim a five-point advantage at the main break.
Sydney maintained their ascendancy with a strong third-quarter, but they failed to deter the Hawks from producing a final-quarter comeback.