The Illawarra Hawks continued to display their progress under new coach Justin Tatum with a gritty 94-90 victory over the Sydney Kings on Christmas Day at Qudos Bank Arena. Sydney has won the last two NBL championships and had been victorious in eight consecutive games against Illawarra. However, this changed after Jacob Jackomas was replaced by Tatum as the Hawks’ coach over the last six games. Illawarra won three out of four games before a disappointing home loss to the Tasmania JackJumpers on Saturday. Nevertheless, the team showed resilience and hunger against the Kings on Christmas evening in front of 8578 fans.
This determination and focus demonstrated by the players against the Kings are a testament to the improvement under Tatum’s leadership. The two defining plays leading to the victory were an offensive rebound by Lachlan Olbrich setting up veteran import forward Gary Clark to score the go-ahead basket with 34 seconds remaining, followed by sharpshooter Hyunjung Lee’s effort to secure the defensive rebound, helping Justin Robinson ice the game at the foul line. This marked the Hawks’ first win over the Kings since April 24, 2022, propelling their season record to 6-9 and four wins out of six games under Tatum.
Despite an 18-point deficit in the second quarter, the Hawks managed to close the gap and secure the win. Sam Froling led the charge with 20 points and eight rebounds, with Tyler Harvey adding 15 points, Robinson contributing 14 points and five assists, Lee scoring 13 points, and Olbrich contributing nine points and 10 rebounds. Tatum praised Olbrich as the MVP of the game, highlighting the team’s readiness and adaptability to seize opportunities.
On the other hand, Sydney succumbed to a double loss, adding to their defeat against New Zealand on Friday. With a season record of 9-8, Sydney’s top-scorer was Jaylen Adams with 22 points and five assists. Despite the loss, Kings coach Mahmoud Abdelfattah recognized Illawarra’s dominance in rebounding as the key difference in the game.
In another game on Christmas Day, the South East Melbourne Phoenix claimed a morale-boosting 85-77 upset victory over the Tasmania JackJumpers. Despite several challenges, including the absence of key players and injuries, the Phoenix prevailed with a strong defensive and rebounding performance, outlasting the JackJumpers. The offense flourished with Gary Browne and Abdel Nader each scoring 20 points and contributing significantly to the win. Phoenix coach Mike Kelly commended the team’s unwavering effort and determination, emphasizing the collective display of hard work.
The JackJumpers’ coach Scott Roth acknowledged South East Melbourne’s deserved win and their outperformance in several areas, including offensive rebounds and defensive play. The loss pushed the JackJumpers’ record to 10-8, despite commendable individual performances by Jack McVeigh, Milton Doyle, and Jordon Crawford.
In summary, the Illawarra Hawks and the South East Melbourne Phoenix displayed remarkable resilience and determination in their respective NBL games on Christmas Day, capturing significant victories that underscore their potential and progress in the league.