The Sydney Kings kept their season alive for at least another day by beating the Townsville Crocodiles 81-74 at the Crown Kingdome on Friday night.
Needing to win and hope other results go their way in a bid to make the finals, the Kings kept up their side of the bargain with a nail-biting seven-point victory.
Spearheaded by a dominant performance from import Darnell Lazare (21 points, 4 rebounds) and some last-quarter heroics from Aaron Bruce (16 points, 6 assists), the Kings edged their way past an equally-desperate Crocs outfit.
It didn’t go all their way, though, and it was nail-biting right until the final whistle.
With 33 seconds left on the clock and the Kings leading by a slender two points, a monster three-pointer from Bruce gave the Kings the four-point advantage they needed to finally shake off the Crocs.
“Different guys stepped up tonight and there was a lot of character in the team – that was the most pleasing thing,” said Kings coach Shane Heal.
“I’m really pleased with their effort today.”
Townsville, for their part, looked like they might put themselves into the finals equation, holding a 10-point lead early and going on scoring runs throughout, but they were unable to find consistency across all four quarters.
Only Olympian Peter Crawford (21 points, 5/12 three-pointers) consistently found his range, while centre Luke Nevill (19 points, 6 rebounds) was a force inside.
“I think the effort level was far superior to the last time we played Sydney, but you’ve got to give credit where credit’s due and Sydney got the job done down the stretch,” Townsville coach Paul Woolpert said.
The Crocs handled the early pressure better, jumping out to a 10-2 lead as the Kings struggled to get going.
As the Crocs threatened to blow the game open, Kings guard James Harvey (15 points) drained seven straight points, including a highlight-reel special four-point play, to keep the home side within shooting distance.
And with Lazare proving hard to contain the Kings weren’t going to be behind for long, their American spearheading an eight-point scoring run to deliver a seven-point half-time lead.
Clearly fired up, the Crocs exploded into a 5-0 run at the start of the third quarter to reduce the deficit to two points, but Lazare’s explosive alley-oop restored the Kings' seven-point lead.
Crawford’s then nailed back-to-back three-pointers to keep the game was delicately poised.
Bruce, however, would prove the difference, after shutting Crocs star Gary Ervin down all game he nailed two monstrous late triples and then kept his cool from the free-throw line to keep Sydney's playoff hopes alive.
“The Crocs have big-time players who can put the ball in the hole, but our defensive efforts were great in keeping them out the game,” Heal said.
Should either Cairns or Wollongong taste defeat this weekend the Kings will feature in the post-season for the first time since 2008.
Sydney Kings 81 (Lazare 21, Bruce 16, Harvey 15)
Townsville Crocodiles 74 (Crawford 21, Nevill 19, M Cedar 10, Ervin 10, Hinder 10)
Crowd: 6371 at the Sydney Entertainment Centre