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Late surge from Kings ends Phoenix’s NBL finals hopes

John Roberson top-scored for the Phoenix with a 27-point haul.

John Roberson top-scored for the Phoenix with a 27-point haul.Credit:AAP

It has been an up-and-down summer for the Kings, but the last part of this game served as a timely reminder of just how lethal they can be when they find their offensive groove – particularly from downtown, having sunk 17 of their 38 three-point attempts.

“That was a barrage,” Phoenix coach Simon Mitchell said. “You know you’re going to get a lot of three-point attempts when you play Sydney and that was a lot of three-point makes. We have a habit of giving that up.”

Brazilian star Didi Louzada led the way for Sydney with 18 points off the bench as he continued his comeback from injury but there was an even spread of contributors, including Brad Newley (17 points), Jae’Sean Tate (14 points, five assists) and Casper Ware (14 points, six assists).

“Aesthetically, I like that,” Weaver said of the Kings’ ability to share the scoring load. “As a program, it reinforces the degree to which we play for each other and take what’s there for us. I think the enjoyment our guys get out of each other’s success is really high. For us to be as good as we can be we need to keep that spirit at the centre of what we’re doing.”

Rested from the trip across the Tasman for ‘load management’ reasons, Andrew Bogut was relatively quiet in his 23 minutes of court time but his back-up, veteran big Daniel Kickert, tipped in 12 points.

For the visitors, Roberson was untouchable early and had four assists to go with his game-high haul but did not score in the third quarter and had just three points in the last, by which stage the game was dead and buried.

“I could lie and say we made some sort of brilliant scheme adjustment and shut down John,” Weaver said. “But the truth is, tonight we shoot 44 per cent from three and the other night we shoot low-20s. People that shoot great in the first half [don’t always in the second].”

The Kings took a 27-24 lead into the first change, largely on the back of their success from long-range – as a team, they went five from eight – with Louzada twice hitting the target.

But the Phoenix, fuelled by a sizzling 12-point offering from Roberson, hung around and shook off Sydney whenever the hosts threatened to break away.

It was much the same in the second quarter – the Kings managed to stretch their advantage to 10 points at one stage but the Phoenix reeled them back in, and a late flurry of threes from both teams made it 57-50 at half-time. Roberson, once again, scored 12 points to almost single-handedly keep his team in the contest.

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It took three long minutes for Sydney to make another dent on the scoreboard when the teams returned for the third term, with their offence completely seizing up – including Bogut, who came back empty-handed from a trip to the free-throw line.

South-East Melbourne took it as an invitation, closing the gap even further before a lay-up from skipper Mitch Creek gave them the lead for the first time since the opening exchanges.

But the Kings responded with a 14-6 scoring run, capped off by Ware’s downtown effort on the buzzer to head into the final frame with all the momentum.

Sydney kept it rolling with 10 points to two across the opening two-and-a-half minutes, ending any feint hopes of another Phoenix surge.

The Kings return to action on Friday night away to the Illawarra Hawks before they host arch-rivals Melbourne United on Australia Day.

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