By Thomas Woodgate, Pagemasters
The Sydney Kings’ finals hopes have been dealt a massive blow with a heart-breaking 78-75 defeat to the Cairns Taipans at the Crown Kingdome on Friday night.
Despite leading for the majority of the contest and holding 12-point leads in both the second and third quarters, the Kings couldn’t shake off a stubborn Taipans outfit.
Remarkably, when Brad Hill (11 points, 14 rebounds) sunk both free-throws with just 3min 54sec left on the clock in the fourth quarter, it handed the Taipans their first lead of the night.
All of a sudden, having been in total control for the entire contest, the Kings were on the ropes and facing the possibility of what seemed for much of the night an unlikely defeat.
“We couldn’t defend tonight in the first half,” Taipans coach Aaron Fearne said.
“We turned into an ugly grind in the second half and we really defended.”
Giant centre Ian Crosswhite (21 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocks) did his best at both ends of the court to thwart the Taipans with another dominant display. In tandem with a season-best performance from forward Tom Garlepp (11 points, 6 rebounds), they wreaked havoc in the paint.
James Harvey (11 points) and Ben Madgen (12 points) had big games to cover for the injured Corin Henry, but a second-half collapse cost the hosts.
With Alex Loughton (17 points) and Jamar Wilson (16 points) taking their games to a new level as the second half wore on, the contest never had the feeling of a foregone conclusion despite Sydney's control, and so it ultimately proved.
Both teams were quick in transition early and the game got off to a high-tempo start.
A 10-point scoring blitz in the second quarter gave the Kings some breathing room and left the Taipans shell-shocked.
In fact, the Kings remained in control for the following two quarters and comfortably kept Cairns at arm’s lengths despite their best efforts, with Loughton’s nine second-quarter points one of the few things keeping the visitors in touch.
“All week we spoke about the processes and for 16 minutes I left like we dominated that process,” Kings coach Shane Heal said.
“We got 12 points up and then we went away from the processes and the things that work. We didn’t have the mental toughness to do it for 40 minutes and that’s been the story of our season.”
But when Brad Hill, under pressure from a Kings double-team, managed to offload to Cameron Gliddon in the paint to present him with an easy lay-up the Taipans’ self-belief went up a notch.
“For a large part of the game we felt comfortable and that’s where the complacency sets in for us and we get a little bit too comfortable at times,” Aaron Bruce said.
And as the Kings offence felt the pinch, and they strugged to find the dominant Crosswhite inside, Cairns smelt blood and pulled off a remarkable comeback to take the win.
“I felt like we kept letting them off the hook and when you do that you won’t win a game in this league – had we stuck to the processes we would have won the game,” Heal said.
Cairns Taipans 78 (Loughton 17, Wilson 16, Tragardh 13)
Sydney Kings 75 (Crosswhite 21, Madgen 12, Garlepp 11, Harvey 11)
Crowd: 4117 at Sydney Entertainment Centre