While the New Zealand Breakers defeated the Sydney Kings 95-87 in Game 1 of their best-of-five NBL Championship series, superstar tandem Xavier Cooks and Derrick Walton Jr. sustained game-ending knee injuries.
Will McDowell-White (19 points, 9 rebounds, 9 assists) and Barry Brown Jr. (19 points off the bench) of New Zealand’s backcourt alternated in keeping the 13,145 spectators at Qudos Bank Arena quiet on Friday night.
In contrast, Jarrell Brantley (16 points, 7 rebounds) won the key power forward matchup against league MVP Cooks (8 points, 20%).
A few minutes after Walton staggered to the bench in the middle of the fourth quarter due to a cramp in his right leg, Cooks’ night came to an end in the dying minutes as he limped off the floor.
The injured Kings, who spent a large portion of the night playing catch-up, were paced by Justin Simon (18 points).
Breakers coach Mody Maor said, “We’re competing every possession, we give it everything we’ve got.
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“When we play Sydney, controlling the tempo is crucial.
“I thought we were OK, but I think we can do much better,”
Early on, the defending champs attacked the rim aggressively as expected, but a poor 4-of-9 shooting from the foul line put them at a disadvantage.
When Cooks’ wayward pass resulted in McDowell-alley-oop White’s to Dererk Pardon, the Breakers’ bench, spearheaded by the league’s top sixth man Brown, outscored Sydney’s 15-2 to give the visitors a 30-23 lead at the half.
The hosts, who were outplayed in the second stanza, continued to suffer from McDowell-skillful White’s facilitation and penetration.
Before Sydney’s league-best offence began to click against the Breakers’ competition-best defence, the deficit had increased to 14 points.
Simon played a key role as the Kings cut the deficit to 76-70 at the half, but an unsportsmanlike foul on Dejan Vasiljevic to start the fourth quarter gave the Kings the advantage back Kiwis.
Brown capitalised on the opportunity, scoring 13 points in the fourth quarter against an increasingly depleted Kings team.
The Kings coach Chase Buford stated, “Credit to NZ in the first half, they made a bunch of shots which kept us at a distance.
“They had an answer for us every time we threatened a run in the second half.”
Game 2 of the series will take place in Auckland on Sunday.