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Frustrated Sydney coach Chase Buford has taken aim at the refereeing in the Kings’ game-four grand final loss to New Zealand, before storming out of his post-game press conference.
The Kings were held to their lowest-ever score in a championship game and blew a golden opportunity to seal back-to-back titles in an 80-70 loss in front of a crowd of 9742 at Spark Arena — a record in New Zealand.
The Breakers made it known, following game three, they had lost the foul count and shot fewer free throws than their opponent in each of their previous six playoff contests.
Buford believes that influenced the whistle on Sunday — the Breakers won the foul count 20-17 and shot 26 free throws to the Kings’ 14.
“They were allowed to get away with stuff they weren’t allowed to in the first few games,” a simmering Buford said, post game.
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“There was no freedom of movement. At one point, it was 11-2, the foul count, in the second half.
“We were playing five-on-eight out there. It was clear.”
Buford said he’d discussed the attention on the foul discrepancy with his players.
“We knew we were going to get hosed and we just said ‘we’ve got to weather the storm and stick together’ and I think we did a great job of that, to be fair … It was a big storm in the second half,” he said.
Pressed on the physicality in the contest, Buford stood up and said “I’m good”, cutting his press conference short.
The Kings will host the Breakers in game five on Wednesday night, the winner to be crowned NBL23 champion.
The Dr John Raschke trophy sat in the middle of the court as New Zealand warmed up before the game, a tangible reminder of the enormity of the stakes.
Facing the prospect of the Kings claiming the NBL championship on their home floor, the Breakers rode the raucous record crowd to force a decisive fifth game.
Even league owner Larry Kestelman was barracking for the Breakers as he watched the “war” unfold.
Re-energised Will McDowell-White was the orchestrator, rediscovering the form of game one with another near-flawless 19-point, 5 rebound, 6 assist effort that was complimented by a 23-point explosion from former NBA man Jarrell Brantley, who found his feet in the series for the first time.
SAME-SAME, BUT DIFFERENT
In a contest that looked, for a moment, it might go the way of game three, the Breakers ground the Kings down in the first half, holding Sydney to just 27 points, before another third-quarter surrender that has plagued their series.
The Kings had won the third quarter in each game by 5, 12 and 12 and, again, they found another gear in a dominant 25-15 period that trimmed a 12-point deficit to just two at the final break.
Derrick Walton Jr was brilliant with 18 points and kept the Kings in it, while Angus Glover continued a fine series with 12 — all from deep.
Both teams had players who looked to turn hero in the last. A re-energised Will McDowell-White buried a pair of three-pointers for the Breakers and then big Jordy Hunter, one of the delights of the series, had a one-man six-point run for the Kings.
But Sixth Man of the Year Barry Brown Jr refused to lose, sticking a three, throwing down a massive fast break dunk as gun defender Justin Simon attempted to chase him down and then potting a ridiculous rainbow trey that re-established a double-digit lead and blew the roof off Spark Arena.
It was the dose the Breakers needed to stretch out the Kings, Brantley delivering the knockout blow with a minute to go.
BANGED UP COOKS
In the second quarter, Pardon rumbled into Cooks, who had heavy strapping on his right knee, and, as the league MVP fell to the ground, he grabbed the New Zealand big by the jersey and arm, in a bid to brace his fall. It was adjudged an unsportsmanlike foul on review and Cooks was later forced to the pine with three first-half fouls.
The NBA-bound gun showed glimpses of his wild talent, but it was not his night.
The struggle was real for the Kings — even Buford caught a pass from Derrick Walton Jr.
Simon changed the game for Sydney in Game two with six steals. This time, it was Breakers legend Tom Abercrombie who turned devastator at the defensive end, the 35-year-old swiping and equal-grand final record six steals that ensured his chance at a fifth NBL title remained alive. If he had any thoughts of retirement at season’s end, plenty would be urging him to reconsider.