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Sydney Kings claim NBL title with 77-69 win over NZ Breakers

Derrick Walton Jr played a crucial part in Sydney Kings' 77-69 win over NZ Breakers on Wednesday.

Derrick Walton Jr played a crucial part in Sydney Kings' 77-69 win over NZ Breakers on Wednesday. Photo: AAP

Sydney Kings have won the 2022-23 NBL title by defeating New Zealand Breakers 77-69 in the fifth and final game of the championship series at Sydney’s Qudos Bank Arena.

In front of the largest NBL crowd in history – 18,124 – NBA-bound forward Xavier Cooks had his best game of the series to help the Kings fight back from 12 points down in the first half.

The victory confirms a dynasty for the Kings, who have now won back-to-back titles in Chase Buford’s first two seasons as coach despite significant roster changes in the off season.

The win put paid to a Breakers fairytale.

New Zealand spent the whole of last season on the road due to COVID-19 and finished bottom of the ladder – as it was denied the chance to write the final chapter in its rag-to-riches story under rookie coach Mody Maor.

Sydney’s fifth NBL title comes after one of the closest championship series in NBL history – it marked only the fifth time a best-of-five series had been taken to five games, and the second time since 1997 the team that lost game one went on to clinch the trophy.

The Breakers were quicker to come out of the blocks and led by as many as 11 points in the first quarter as Will McDowell-White (12 points, eight rebounds), one of their best this series, called the shots.

The NBL fined both Kings coach Chase Buford and Breakers CEO Matt Walsh for criticising its referees this week but only Sydney attracted the attention of the officials early on Wednesday – the Kings gave six fouls away before the Breakers gave one.

Sydney was unable to attack the paint as normal, locked out by resolute New Zealand defence and forced into taking low-percentage shots.

The Kings missed six consecutive attempts at three but an Angus Glover triple towards the end of the second quarter gave the Kings the lift they needed.

Off the bench, Glover was gallant as the game wore on, playing through what appeared to be a rib injury but finished with 12 points and nine rebounds.

Xavier Cooks’ last game before joining the NBA’s Washington Wizards was his best of the championship series, despite a corked thigh continuing to give him grief.

Cooks (19 points, 11 rebounds) began to work his way into the contest in the second period and charged through the paint to beat the buzzer and cut the margin to only one point at half-time.

A jump shot from Derrick Walton Jr (team-high 21 points, six assists) gave the Kings their first lead since early in the first quarter and proved a sign of things to come.

The American began to make things happen for the Kings in a tight third quarter.

But New Zealand imports Barry Brown Jr (22 points) and Jarrell Brantley (16 points, four rebounds) kept the Kings from running away and the scores were tied at 56 at the final change.

It was only the second time in NBL history the scores were level at the final break of a championship-deciding match.

As tensions rose, players appealed to the referees after a water bottle was thrown from the crowd and onto the court.

New Zealand captain Tom Abercrombie fouled out with three minutes and the Kings went on a 13-point scoring run as Cooks tightened his grip on his opposite man Brantley.

A Walton jump shot in the final minute put the margin at six, forcing a Breakers timeout before the Kings enjoyed a thrilling victory.

-AAP

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