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Injury-hit Sydney Kings rally to level NBL grand final series against NZ Breakers

Justin Simon produced a defensive masterclass as Sydney levelled the NBL grand final series on Sunday.

Justin Simon produced a defensive masterclass as Sydney levelled the NBL grand final series on Sunday. Photo: AAP

Sydney Kings have defied injuries to Xavier Cooks and Derrick Walton Jr to level the NBL grand final series against New Zealand Breakers with an 81-74 win in game two.

Sixth man Kouat Noi (20 points) stepped up off the bench at Auckland’s Spark Arena on Sunday, while teammate Justin Simon (12 points, nine rebounds, six steals) savaged the Breakers defensively.

Import point guard Walton lasted less than five minutes, still struggling with the after-effects of the severe quadricep cramp he suffered in the series opener.

League MVP Cooks scored only two points in nine minutes before sitting out the entire second half, still hobbled by the leg corks he also sustained in Game One.

The Breakers, led by Americans Barry Brown Jr (21 points) and Jarrell Brantley (20), spent large portions of the match unable to deal with Sydney’s excellent defence, spearheaded by Simon.

“I couldn’t be prouder of them right now,” Kings coach Chase Buford said.

“We were undermanned … they just came out and competed their balls off.”

The hosts were ice-cold early, missing their first eight shots and taking almost five minutes to get off the mark as Sydney controlled proceedings with their aggressive defence.

With Noi having an instant impact off the bench and Dejan Vasiljevic knocking down a long trey on the quarter-time buzzer, the Kings led 21-9 at the first break.

Their lead stretched to 13 when Vasiljevic started the second stanza with a terrific drive and another three-point bomb but with Walton sidelined, NZ trimmed the gap to four points at halftime.

Without their two best players after Cook and Walton were finished after playing less than 14 minutes combined, Sydney seized the momentum back in the third term, thanks chiefly to Simon’s magnificent defence.

On consecutive possessions, he picked Will McDowell-White’s pocket and finished with successive breakaway slams.

Defensive specialist Simon conjured four steals in the third quarter and by early in the fourth period, Sydney’s lead blew out to 18 points.

Brown caught fire with a flurry of buckets in the dying minutes but the Breakers left their run far too late.

“Championship series and big games come with challenges,” NZ coach Mody Maor said.

“You need some composure to overcome them.

“We played with a lack of composure for big parts of the game.”

-AAP

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