NBA veteran Matthew Dellavedova was the headline act at Sydney’s Qudos Bank Arena on Sunday, but the Sydney Kings prevented the fairytale start to his NBL debut by defeating his new side, defending champions Melbourne United.
In front of 8,632, Dellavedova’s men made a late charge at the Kings, whittling down a 12-point lead in the final quarter to as little as three, but the home side hung on to win by five, giving American Chase Buford’s a winning start as head coach.
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Adding to the occasion for Dellavedova, who claimed an NBA championship ring with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016, the 31-year-old was a late call up to become Melbourne’s third captain this week just before tip-off.
Veteran David Barlow was named as stand-in for club captain during the week following Australian Boomer Chris Goulding’s hamstring injury, but Dellavedova filled the breach last minute after Barlow withdrew with back soreness.
The Kings were led by the American trio of Jaylen Adams, Jarell Martin and RJ Hunter – who all scored double figures, along with 26-year-old local prospect Xavier Cooks.
Adams – who spent time with Buford at the Milwaukee Bucks and Wisconsin Herd in the NBA G-League – led the way with 15 points.
Buford was buoyant on the sidelines, as his side maintained advantage for much of the match after trailing by three at quarter time.
The Kings’ win made it seven in a row at home against United setting a new record for the best streak against any current NBL team at Qudos.
Earlier, at Qudos Bank Arena, the Sydney Uni Flames went down 58-55 to University of Canberra Capitals in each team’s first match of the new WNBL season, which also started this weekend.
No win for Delly
Like great mate and 783 NBA-game legend Andrew Bogut, the man affectionately known as ‘Delly’, could not register the win in his NBL debut.
Coincidentally, both made their debut on the same court at Qudos Bank Arena. Dellavedova returned nine points and six assists.
German NBL Next Star 19-year-old Ariel Hukporti showed glimpses of his potential with a strand-out slam dunk in the final quarter.
Long-time Kings fan Nick Kyrgios was one of several celebrities in the house to witness the Kings’ season opener.
The polarising Australian tennis star was once quoted that he’d rather play basketball than tennis, famously saying “he didn’t love the sport.”
Kyrgios was joined courtside by Anthony Mundine and South Sydney Rabbitoh Cody Walker with Sydney FC’s Milos Ninkovic and Adam Le Fondre and Australian actor Brendan Cowell also in attendance.
More to come for Kings
Besides the American import talent on court, the Kings have more exciting talent to come with Dejan Vasiljevic continuing his rehabilitation from a ruptured Achilles tendon.
Averaging more than 15 points and nearly four rebounds in 21 games of his debut campaign last season before injury struck, the exciting perimeter player is expected to return to the court in early January.
American influence proved the winning tonic for the Sydney Kings on Sunday at Qudos Bank Arena, but new coach Chase Buford was not completely satisfied with the performance.
In front of 8,632, all three US imports – Jaylen Adams, Jarell Martin and RJ Hunter – made an impact on the scoreboard reaching double figures in the 79-74 win over defending champions Melbourne United headlined by NBA-veteran and NBL debutant Matthew Dellavedova.
Buford, who hails from NBA royalty as son of San Antonio Spurs legendary executive RC Buford, said the game “wasn’t the prettiest by any means,” after watching a number of heavily contested matches to open the new NBL season this weekend, at the offensive end.
“We’ve been competing against each other for 3-4 months, (I think everybody) was happy to compete against somebody else for a real game,” Buford said.
“Offensively it was a sloppy game. I think you saw that up and down the court, watched a lot of tough offensive games in the last few days.
“We didn’t move it the way we wanted to move it, we didn’t run the way we want to run, we’ll grow.”
Buford joins the Kings this season from Wisconsin Herd in the NBA G-League and was part of the champion-winning Milwaukee Bucks team towards the end of last season before moving to Sydney.
It was at Milwaukee and Wisconsin that Buford built an association with Adams that he now rekindles in Sydney. Adams led the way for the Kings with 15 points and nine rebounds, including two from the arc.
With all that in mind, Buford was just relieved to get the win.
“It feels good, it’s been the longest pre-season I’ve ever been involved in, long-time coming it feels like a little bit,” he said.
“Good to just get a game out of the way.”
And it was the defensive effort towards the end of the match, where Melbourne whittled down a 12-point lead in the final quarter to as little as three, that most impressed the Kings’ new mentor.
“I come back to our defence … even when it got closer, we kept getting those stops, we couldn’t score but kept getting stops,” he said.
Dellavedova, 31, filled in as captain after stand-in captain David Barlow, who was originally named to fill the shoes of injured club skipper Chris Goulding, but was ruled out with back soreness on Sunday.
The man affectionately known as “Delly” returned nine points and six assists.
Sixers go 0-2
The Adelaide 36ers are still looking for their first regular season win under rookie coach CJ Bruton after master mentor Brian Goorjian guided the Illawarra Hawks to a dominant 10-point win on Sunday.
The 36ers, who were the unbeaten champions of the pre-season competition, opened the regular season with an 85-73 loss to the Wildcats in Perth and were outclassed in an 81-71 result at the Adelaide Entertainment Centre.
In his NBL debut for the Hawks, Duop Reath was outstanding with 18 points and nine rebounds.
Justinian Jessup (17 points) and Tyler Harvey (15) were also prominent in the impressive display that followed a pre-season where two of their games were cancelled due to Covid restrictions.
“The concern coming in was that we hadn’t played together much, and you could see that on the offensive end, but I think you could see some really good patches for the future offensively,” Goorjian said.
“There’s a lot of excitement on that end and then where we went to win has been the question mark on the group – can we play that defence that we did last year?
“And to hold them to 71 on their home court was a good way to go.”
Bruton, who was part of Goorjian’s NBL title-winning Sydney teams in 2004 and 2005, has plenty of work ahead of him as he attempts to get his overhauled line-up to click.
The Sixers, who were missing Kai Sotto (knee), Emmanuel Malou (knee) and Sunday Dech (quadricep), struggled to hang onto the ball, committing 21 turnovers to the Hawks’ nine.
“I think as the game went on we got in our own way,” Bruton said.
“Everyone got a little bogged down and started second guessing … there were a few turnovers, the body language shifted and things started unravelling.”
Playing against his old side for the first time, Cam Bairstow topscored for Adelaide with 15 points, while new imports Dusty Hannahs and Todd Withers finished with five and nine points respectively.
New import Antonius Cleveland gave Hawks fans a glimpse of his quality with a stunning reverse two-handed dunk as the visitors jumped out to an early 11-4 lead.
But back-to-back triples from Mitch McCarron and Withers set up a 16-13 lead for the home team at the first break.
Harvey and Reath were the architects of Illawarra’s second-quarter surge, the duo draining two three-pointers apiece.
The Sixers didn’t help their cause with an alarming 12 turnovers to the Hawks’ one in the first half as Goorjian’s men took a 40-35 lead into halftime.
Adelaide’s turnover woes continued after the break and Illawarra took full advantage, going on a 13-0 run to start the second half.
An unsportsmanlike foul by Hannahs on Jessup saw the margin blow out to 59-41 late in the third.
The Hawks had the game on their terms, leading 66-50 to start the final term, and eased to a comfortable win to start their NBL campaign.
The 36ers will take on competition newcomers the Tasmania JackJumpers at the MyState Bank Arena on Thursday night, while Illawarra will do battle with the Kings in Sydney on Saturday evening.
Bruton’s bright future
Master proved too good for apprentice in their first NBL clash as opposition coaches, but Brian Goorjian predicted a bright future for CJ Bruton and Adelaide following Illawarra’s 10-point win.
The 36ers were the unbeaten champions of the pre-season competition, but suffered an 85-73 loss to the Wildcats in Perth in the regular season opener.
They slipped to an 0-2 start to their NBL campaign following Sunday’s 81-71 loss to the Hawks at the Adelaide Entertainment Centre.
Bruton, who was part of Goorjian’s NBL title-winning Sydney teams in 2004 and 2005, has plenty of work ahead of him in his first season in charge as he attempts to get his overhauled line-up to click.
But Goorjian has no doubt Bruton is the right man for the job.
“Winning championships with CJ, then seeing him work under the national coach and develop … I think it’s fantastic that Adelaide has given him the opportunity and I know that he’s going to deliver,” Goorjian said.
“I was excited for him, but it’s competition and you’ve got to take the emotion out of it.
“When it comes to competition you’ve got to put that emotion in your back pocket and do whatever you can to win.
“I think he’s doing a great job with this group, it was a tough double to start with, but I know he’s going to do a great job.”
The Hawks, already a well-drilled defensive unit under Goorjian, appear to have sharpened up their attack, with new signing Duop Reath leading the way with 18 points in his first game for Illawarra.
“We’ve got much more shooting power on the perimeter than we had last year,” Goorjian said.
“We didn’t shoot the ball particularly well but you can see there’s shooting power there and some athleticism.”
The Sixers struggled to hang onto the ball, committing 21 turnovers to the Hawks’ nine, which stymied their attempts to find any rhythm on offence against Illawarra’s well-organised defence.
Playing against his old side for the first time, Cam Bairstow top-scored for Adelaide with 15 points, while Mitch McCarron finished with 12 points, with new imports Dusty Hannahs and Todd Withers managing five and nine points respectively.
“I think every player in our group can shoot the ball better than they have so far,” Bruton said.
“I know they can.
“We’ve just got to continue to work on it, keep believing in ourselves and our shots and the opportunities will come.
“I believe we’re on the right track.”
With a road trip to take on the Tasmania JackJumpers on Thursday, the Sixers are hoping Kai Sotto (knee), Emmanuel Malou (knee) and Sunday Dech (quadricep) will soon bolster the line-up.
There’s not much that hasn’t been written about Chinese star Zhou Qi since he landed at South East Melbourne.
All that was left was for him to show his on-court play matched the off-court hype.
From the moment he was introduced to Phoenix fans before their 89-65 demolition of the New Zealand Breakers at John Cain Arena, it was clear why 216cm Qi is the biggest drawcard — literally and figuratively — in the franchise’s short history.
Phoenix coach Simon Mitchell said while Qi is struggling with the language barrier, he is more than fluent in the language of basketball.
“He’s a special kid,” Mitchell said.
“It’s funny, his English needs some work, but he understands basketball and you only have to tell him something once and he just retains it. He’s really, really articulate out there.”
Mitchell said it was no surprise Qi was already a hit among Phoenix fans.
“Despite our language barriers, he’s just a loveable character,” he said.
“I don’t know what it is, but you see it in his face, he lights up and he lights everybody else up and he plays with an enthusiasm that really is quite contagious.
“His teammates adore him and I’m not surprised that the crowd are going to warm to him really quickly because there’s just something about him.”
A rock star in China thanks to his NBA experience, Qi was afforded the loudest greeting during introductions and, when he checked into the game half way through the first quarter, there was more love from a crowd that featured a large contingent of Asian fans.
On the floor, he looked like a man among boys.
At one point, he palmed the ball in his hand and extended it 285cm into the sky, leaving young Breakers opponent Kyrin Galloway — who is 203cm himself — unable to reach it.
The discrepancy was even more stark when, on a switch, pint-sized Breakers point guard Peyton Siva, all 183cm of him, was left to guard the man mountain, giving away 33cms
Qi’s mere presence on the defensive end changed the way the Breakers attacked. They became more hesitant to go to the basket and the likes of Finn Delany and company were forced to add more arc to their shots to ensure they were not sent away.
Defence might be Zhou’s trademark, but two-handed power dunks on the heads of helpless defenders will be a regular statement.
You had to feel for Galloway, who was also giving away some 19kg to the 116kg monster, who, on one spectacular play, muscled his way into the key, extended his telescopic arms and flushed it down with authority.
Devoting this much attention to a player who had a modest 8 points, 5 rebounds and 3 blocks when import teammate Xavier Munford had a huge game in his Phoenix debut might seem overkill but, right now, Qi is the story for a South East Melbourne side that might be young, but already craves success. Especially after the heartbreak of a semi final series loss to cross-town rivals and eventual 2020-21 NBL champions Melbourne United last season.
They’ve taken the first baby step toward that goal and will gear up for a rematch with the Breakers on Friday night.
X marks his spot
If Qi is the rock star then Munford is the understated drummer who holds it all together. The former NBA man was the best player on the floor, showcasing his elite scoring, shooting and defensive skills on his way to a game-high 27 points to go with 7 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 steals. Nine Phoenix players were on the court for at least 15 minutes, an indicator of the depth the club has across the floor.
The preparation for the Breakers has been far from ideal. The touring party from across the ditch has already made huge sacrifices, leaving their homes and families to be based in Australia to ensure the NBL season can go ahead. Covid cases in the camp forced their last pre-season game to be cancelled and players and officials into quarantine. Coach Dan Shamir was among the Covid-positive and he was unable to coach the team, leaving the duties to assistant Mody Maor. Captain Tom Abercrombie hurt himself in their first game and then Yanni Wetzell — a former Phoenix player — was unable to come up from injury against his former club. It all amounted to an equal-franchise worst 23-point first half for the Breakers.
Xavier Munford 27
Mitch Creek 19
Finn Delany 18
Peyton Siva 11
Kyrin Galloway 10
Hugo Besson 10
Phoenix ‘ploughing through’ tough Covid restrictions
South East Melbourne Phoenix coach Simon Mitchell has given an insight into the Covid restrictions NBL players face.
Following his side’s 89-65 blowout win over New Zealand, Mitchell said his charges had adopted a mindset of “ploughing through” a system that involves at-home lockdown for three days before each game.
“Seventy-two hours prior to a game, we are in lockdown, complete lockdown, like Victoria was for 200-odd days,” Mitchell said.
“We don’t leave the house for anything but training, unless we need to get some groceries or get some medical assistance — those are our only reasons to leave home.
“The days previous to that, we’ve just got to be really cautious on where we go and how we act and make sure we’re protecting each other.”
Mitchell said the potential for Covid-related absences had heavily influenced South East Melbourne’s recruiting strategy.
“(We made) sure that everyone’s a multiple position player,” he said.
“X (import Xavier Munford), you can play him at the one (point guard), the two (shooting guard), even at the three (small forward), his length, he can defend there.
“Everybody can play multiple positions, because you’re going to lose guys during the year, for some reason or another.
“They may not have Covid, but they’re going to be coming across someone who has it.
“We’ve had numerous scares and guys in quarantine, Devin’s in quarantine right now just through bad luck, being on a flight (from Qatar where the Omicron variant of Covid-19 was detected),” he said.
“Dane Pineau had some bad luck the other week — nothing that he did wrong, but he came in contact with somebody who had it and he’s in quarantine for a week.”
Mitchell said there were no excuses, because every other club had to deal with Covid issues.
“It’s just going to be something we’re going to have to live with throughout the year,” he said.
“I’m not sitting here crying. There’s other guys who had the same situation — Sydney, Illawarra, Melbourne, and you see what New Zealand have to go through.”
NZ coach Dan Shamir was missing from the sidelines during the loss to the Phoenix as he recovered from Covid — which struck a number of Breakers last week. They’re stuck in Australia until border restrictions loosen.
Mitchell is not expecting it to be as easy for the Phoenix in Friday’s rematch.
“They’re a quality basketball team, a lot of talent, they’ve been through incredible obstacles to be where they are right now,” Mitchell said.
“They’re going to have some real difficulties, but they’ve got enough talent that, on their night, they’re going to be tough as hell.
“When they get back to New Zealand when these borders open up, it’s going to be a fortress for them.
“They’re a good team, I don’t expect any sort of blowout next week when we face them again.
“I’d like it, but it’s unrealistic — they’re too good to keep down for two games in a row like that.”