White-hot South East Melbourne captain Kyle Adnam has led the depleted Phoenix to a nervy five-point defeat of last season’s grand final runner-up Tasmania, 84-79.
The story of South East Melbourne’s NBL22 was its inability to hold onto a lead and it looked like old habits were about to die hard as Tasmania tied the scores up in the last quarter, after the Phoenix had led by as many as 18.
But a horror moment for Josh Magette, who was pinged for taking too long to get the ball over the half way line, undid the JackJumpers’ good work.
They’d expended so much energy to get back into the game and, now deflated, Junior Madut made a lay-up off a Creek feed, then Adnam produced a wonderful moment, putting Tassie star Jack McVeigh on skates before draining a step back three.
Add a contested floater in the lane and then a little pull up jumper off the glass and you have your matchwinner, right there.
It was the 28-year-old’s first 30-point game in the NBL and he said when the JackJumpers evened it up, it was go time.
“Looking up at the scoreboard, with the clock winding down, we often have had conversations about closing games and how important it is and I grabbed Creeky in the huddle and I said, ‘we’ve got to get into some action, we’ve got to try and get us home’,” Adnam said.
“We just wanted to get back to something (on offence) that was solid for us and, fortunately, I was able to make a few plays out of it.”
Coach Simon Mitchell said he was proud of the group’s resolve, praising the youngsters he called upon to play heavy minutes.
“Different group, mate,” Mitchell said when asked if he was nervous as the JackJumpers came hard.
“We were a little bit out on our feet. We didn’t execute as well as we possibly could have but it was great to see Kyle and Creeky make big plays down the stretch.
“Good to see guys defend and the last two minutes, I thought were pretty good.
“We got some kids out there. It’s a great learning experience for them.”
The Phoenix largely maintained a double-digit buffer until the last minute of the third quarter, when Tassie import Rashard Kelly came alive scoring the next 13 JackJumpers’ points to make a game of it.
McVeigh and Magette hit huge buckets down the stretch, but the Phoenix banished the demons of NBL22 in gritty fashion, with new boy Junior Madut also a key.
Creek missed a free throw up two with 12.1 seconds left, but made the second to make it a three-point game. He then intercepted the pass and was fouled again, taking the long walk to the other end, making both free throws to extend the lead to five, before Tassie made a late bucket and then fouled Adnam. He got a standing ovation as he potted both free throws to end the game.
Adnam’s game-high 30 points featured six three-pointers, while Creek had 23.
Outside of McVeigh (20) and Kelly’s (18) brilliance for the Jackies, development player Sean McDonald showed his impressive chops with 11 points.
Still missing Gary Browne, Trey Kell and Ryan Broekhoff through injury, the Phoenix next play Thursday against Illawarra, while the JackJumpers are on a short turnaround against Cairns Monday.
South East Melbourne did not win a game during the pre-season and it had plenty of alarm bells ringing among the Phoenix faithful. But Creek didn’t play in any of those. His all-round game is vital to everything the Phoenix do and the JackJumpers were overly Creek conscious, leading to open looks for Adnam from deep and opening up the lane for Williams to do his best work. His battle with fellow star Aussie forward McVeigh was a feature.
The JackJumpers were smacked on the glass at both ends of the floor, with a differential of 43-33. Williams, Creek, Grant Anticevich and Dane Pineau were relentless on the glass against the undersized JackJumpers frontline. They’ll hope Aussie big man Will Magnay can help remedy that deficiency, but he won’t be in a Jackies uniform until at least the beginning of November, as he continues to recover from a knee injury. Conversely, when Chinese seven-footer Zhou Qi joins the Phoenix they will have three of the best rebounders in the league in he, Williams and Pineau.
Committed Hawks push the champs all the way
– David Gavin
Entering a new era the Illawarra Hawks have taken it right up to their arch rival and the defending champion Sydney Kings on the NBL’s opening night, but fell just short in front of a 4000-strong crowd.
The Hawks had a 92-91 lead with three minutes remaining, then the star of last season Xavier Cooks (24 points) together with standout new recruit Derick Walton Jr (32 points) put their foot down to give the Kings’ the 106-97 win in Wollongong.
Jacob Jackomas brought the same energy and passion that kept his team in the contest in the 42-year-old’s first game in charge after Brian Goorjian departed, opting not to take up the third year of option of his contract after leading Illawarra to finals in his first two years.
Nothing like the two double-figure losses to exit last season’s playoffs in straight sets, the Hawks never let the fast-starting Kings out of their sight largely thanks to a man who was part of their Championship success last season.
Wani Swaka Lo Buluk making the switch to the Hawks, shooting 14 points and kept the deficit to three at quarter time and one by the half, until he dried up.
Cue Tyler Harvey, as the Californian found some of the form that had him second in the 2020/21 MVP behind Bryce Cotton with 18 points for the match, and with Lachlan Dent (19 points), Sydney were never comfortable.
The Kings, in response had Walton Jr, Cooks and former Hawk Justin Simon with close to 80 points between them. Simon was dynamic off the screen with nine rebounds to go with 19 points.
“Fun being out there,” Simon said coming off his old home court for the first time. “Coach said we’re working to something … the real bullets were firing, it was good, good to get the W, it wasn’t pretty. As the coach said, a lot to work on.”
The Hawks led by three heading into the final term where they streeted away by nine, until the defending champions bit back.
Like most of the 10 NBL teams player movement was a feature of the shortened off-season, due to Covid interruptions last year, and both the Kings and Hawks were no exception.
But the new look line-ups did not change the trend of classic contests between the foes.
The Kings were without MVP Jaylen Adams, Jarell Martin and now dual NBL-NBA champion Ian Clark of the Golden State Warriors all departed the Kings, in stepped Walton Jr. and Simon
While the Hawks surprisingly let go Antonius Cleveland and Xavier Rathan-Mayes to NBL rivals, joined by Boomer Duop Reath headed to China and American Justinian Jessup.
In their place, Swaka lo Buluk, NBA experienced Justin Robinson (10 points, five rebounds) and former Phoenix Suns draftee George King (14 points, five rebounds).
In a huge blow to the competition it was confirmed in July, last season’s breakout MVP Jaylen Adams would not be returning to the Kings. And that became an on court reality for the Kings on Saturday night.
Adams signed for Red Star Belgrade and in his place came Walton Jr ably assisted by former Hawk Justin Simon.
The American duo had hit double figures in the points department by half-time with Walton in particular putting his stamp on the contest with five assists in the first half.
“I love his herky, jerky game,” former King and Boomer Shane Heal on ESPN.
Corey “Homicide” Williams agreed. “That’s the biggest thing, finding an import that can score but he also the balance and the ability to find and create for his teammates.”
They were the pair keeping the Kings in it, especially Simon in the third quarter as the Hawks gained ascendancy. Former Detroit Piston Walton adding eight assists to his points haul.
HAWKS’ COACH DEBUTS
Three games in the NBL Blitz had prefaced this, but the first match of this season’s Freeway series was a welcome to the big time for Jackomas, in front of a packed home crowd, against Illawarra’s arch rivals and defending champions.
And against a side the 42-year-old knew very well, having served as an assistant, 2006-2009 and 2015-2016.
“He cleaned aeroplanes, he worked in pizza shops, he has worked his way from the very bottom to sit in that chair tonight,” ESPN’s Jack Heverin remarked on the call.
The immaculately dressed Chase Buford complete in a tartan suit jacket juxtaposed Jackomas in the short-sleeved polo, barking instructions as good as his predecessor, emulated the mood and trend of the night.
“Got some really good phone calls in the last 48 hours (from some legendary NBL coaches) around the country, it’s been unbelievable the support I got,” Jackomas said.
“They told me to be myself, that’s who I am.”“It was a great feeling, now that we’re in it, we have to move on from that. Being the head coach it’s about winning and losing every game.”
The hunted dominating early, but Illawarra keeping close enough to eventually reign in their arch rivals to hit the lead.
COOKS NEXT LEVEL?
After an injury-plagued first two seasons with the Kings, the hugely talented Xavier Cooks announced himself in the championship campaign.
Average statistics like 15 points and 10 rebounds confirmed the 27-year-old can rebound, he can score in the paint, and can even set up his teammates when required with more than a couple a game.
But from range, he was 30 per cent last season. Early doors on Saturday, he showed the ability he has from that range.
“If he can knock down that three, even mid-range, respect from the perimeter (he can) take his game to an even higher level,” Williams remarked on ESPN.
Cooks was quiet early, and his rebounding remained non-existent. But he started to find the basket as the Kings were playing catch up in the third quarter and then exploded on the points front.
FIRST COACH’S CHALLENGE
Late in the second quarter, Chase Buford launched the first coach’s challenge of the new season, which commentators were certain would be overturned and replays appeared unlikely to favour the Kings.
Buford questioning the foul call on Brazilian centre Tim Soares under the rim, which was described by recently retired Phoenix player Adam Gibson as “arms dropping down” on Hawks’ NBA recruit Justin Robinson as he strode to the paint.
“That’s an automatic call by the referee,” Gibson said. He was soon to be in shock.
“Has to be definitive to overturn the call … Chase Buford is one and 0,” Jack Heverin said. Capturing most of the ball on contact appearing to secure the challenge.
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Originally published as NBL Round 1 results: Phoenix sinks Jackjumpers; Kings eventually pull away from determined Hawks