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Xavier Cooks steers Sydney Kings to victory over Cairns Taipans in NBL semi-final

Sydney’s Xavier Cooks drives to the basket in Wednesday’s NBL playoff win over Cairns.

Sydney’s Xavier Cooks drives to the basket in Wednesday’s NBL playoff win over Cairns. Photo: AAP

League MVP Xavier Cooks’ brilliance and a third-quarter masterclass have steered Sydney Kings out of early strife and to a 95-87 win over Cairns Taipans in game one of the NBL semi-finals.

The Taipans led by 12 points before half-time in Wednesday’s opening rubber at Qudos Bank Arena but they ultimately had no answers for Kings captain Cooks (27 points, 14 rebounds), who showed why he was recently voted the competition’s best player.

Import DJ Hogg (24 points) and little-known reserve Jonah Antonio (20 points in 18 minutes) led the charge for the visitors, who face an anxious wait over import playmaker Shannon Scott, who didn’t play the last minute after appearing to hurt his right hamstring.

After going into the match without star big man Keanu Pinder (fractured eye socket) and captain Tahjere McCall (shoulder), the Snakes can’t afford for their casualty ward to rise against the regular season champions, who turned the contest around with a champagne 27-10 third quarter.

“I got into the guys a bit (at halftime),” Kings coach Chase Buford said.

“The communication and execution in the first half was really poor and we just let Antonio go nuts.

“The guys came out with a different mindset in the second half.

“It was a total energy shift.”

Playing their first game in 10 days, the Kings showed no signs of early rust but they lost their way late in the first term when Cooks and Derrick Walton Jr both received technical fouls for flopping.

Those indiscretions from Sydney’s two best players and a general lack of application to defence saw Cairns close the term with a 9-0 run to pinch a 26-25 quarter-time lead, capped by Antonio’s triple on the buzzer.

Antonio, who entered the match averaging just 2.6 points for the season and with a career-best haul of 10, stunned the reigning champions with a second-quarter, perimeter explosion.

His 14 points for the term included four triples and gave the Snakes a healthy halftime edge.

Cooks started the third stanza with a steal and dunk, threw down another huge slam over Hogg later in the term and was pivotal in an 18-0 burst that ripped the clash out of Cairns’ grasp.

Jaylin Galloway converted on the three-quarter-time buzzer to push Sydney’s lead to eight before the reigning champs held off Hogg’s best efforts late to move to within one strike of another grand final.

“We lost a bit of composure, chirping on the court and so forth,” Taipans coach Adam Forde lamented.

“The good thing is we were able to keep it relatively close with a couple of chances to take the lead back in the fourth, but we couldn’t make our shots.”

-AAP

Topics: NBL
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