The Adelaide 36ers’ three imports have hoisted them to a 92-88 victory over the Sydney Kings that loomed as a very early preview of the NBL play-offs.
The Kings (4-2) have now slipped from top spot on the ladder, dethroned by the Cairns Taipans, while the Sixers confirmed their heavyweight status and improved to 2-1.
“It was a credit to our boys, being able to take the right shots and hold them out on the defensive end,” said Sixers coach CJ Bruton.
The Sixers’ imports shot them to victory against NBA franchise the Phoenix Suns earlier this month and their precision gave the visitors early momentum on Friday night.
Sydney started slowly, just as they did against Brisbane at the weekend, and the Sixers’ American triumvirate of Robert Franks, Antonius Cleveland and Craig Randall II took advantage.
The Sydney crowd had barely taken their seats before the imports had combined to give Adelaide an 8-0 lead.
The Kings’ game plan typically relies on maintaining control of the paint but the Sixers were content to go around the champions and shoot from deep.
Randall was especially potent, shooting at four from five for the first half and finishing with six from 11 – very rare numbers for the NBL.
But Bruton said he was not interested in lauding individuals.
“Randall is a hot mess. He can go on streaks and set things apart,” Bruton said.
“We’ve seen it in practice and we’ve seen it in the games over in the US but this is not about one person.
“How we won this game was as a team.”
Between them, the imports contributed 52 of Adelaide’s 92 points, including 30 from deep.
By contrast, the Kings missed all of their first nine three-point attempts.
Sydney came into the game as the second-best team from deep in the league but it was the midpoint of the second quarter by the time they made one.
Down by eight at the main change, the Kings looked to their own import Derrick Walton Jr. to capitalise on their control of the paint.
He orchestrated an 8-0 run to start the quarter that had Sydney back on level terms and forced a Sixers timeout.
The Kings had the lead for the first time all night when Walton channelled his inner Benji Marshall with a flick pass to Tim Soares, who made an easy two.
Having traded blows in a final quarter that became scrappier by the minute, Cleveland marched up for two shots from the stripe that gave the Sixers a three-point lead in the final 15 seconds.
Needing a basket from deep to send the game into overtime, Walton missed two looks at the perimeter and the Sixers snuck home.
The Kings were again left to wonder what might’ve been had they been able to match their rivals’ accuracy from the free-throw line – the Sixers did not miss from the stripe until the final quarter and finished with 76 per cent accuracy, far superior to Sydney’s 53.
“I actually think we played really well through a lot of the stretch, dominated the game in a lot of areas but couldn’t make a shot and they did,” said Sydney coach Chase Buford.