NBLxNBA: Sydney Kings falls to Utah Jazz in valiant effort
A slow start combined with the Utah Jazz's suffocating defence proved too much for the Sydney Kings in the first of the historic NBL/NBA crossover games, with the Kings falling 108-84 in Utah.
New Sydney import Perry Ellis top scored for the tourists with 19 points. Todd Blanchfield added 8 points and 9 rebounds, Kevin Lisch chipped in with 13 points, while Jason Cadee had 14 off the bench. Despite this, Sydney were unable to overcome a sluggish first quarter that included five turnovers and several missed open looks, and saw them trailing by 19 points at the first break.
In the first game of the post-Gordon Hayward era in Utah, the Jazz made it clear that big men Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors would feature more prominently in Utah’s offence. Favors opened the game with an emphatic dunk down low, while the Kings were given a steady dose of pick-and-roll action between Ricky Rubio and Rudy Gobert. For Ellis and Todd Blanchfield, who started at the four-spot for Sydney, this proved difficult to stop with the Jazz opening up a quick lead. Joe Ingles, who exchanged plenty of hugs pre-game with his Aussie compatriots, found Gobert for a highlight reel alley-oop out of the game’s first timeout.
Blanchfield helped settle the Kings, scoring their first basket of the game on a nice drive to the hoop before Newley splashed home an open three. The Jazz defence, which was ranked number one in the NBA last season, gave Kings issues, as they sent a double-team at the ball handler multiple times on pick and roll plays. Sydney was forced into five turnovers that resulted in 11 points for Utah in the first quarter. The Kings were able to get several open looks at the three-point line, but could not convert. Jazz rookie Donovan Mitchell entered the game late in the first quarter and immediately connected on an open three after two Kings players rolled to the basket, hoping to contain Rudy Gobert. The Jazz led 35-19 at the end of the first.
Sydney settled into the game a lot better in the second quarter, both limiting their turnovers and beginning to get their legs underneath them from long range. Kevin Lisch ignited the offence, first nailing a three from the corner before finding Perry Ellis on the perimeter off a drive and kick. Blanchfield followed that up by knocking down a three pointer in transition as the Kings cut the Utah lead to 12. With Gobert and Favors resting on the Jazz bench, Isaac Humphries and Ellis began to win the battle down low. Humphries connected on a turnaround hook shot before Ellis drove out of the post for a reverse lay-up. With the Jazz lead down to 9, Utah head coach Quin Snyder reinserted Gobert and the Jazz were able to steady. Ingles connected with the French big man again on an alley-oop and Utah went into halftime with some momentum and a 58-48 lead.
Utah’s Rodney Hood opened up the second half by connecting on a long two-pointer before Blanchfield answered with a tough two of his own. Perry Ellis splashed home his third three of the night to cut it to 8 points as the Kings began to look very comfortable on an NBA floor. However, from that point the Jazz began to clamp down defensively. The Kings were held to just 13 points in the quarter thanks in large part to the perimeter defence of Rubio and Ingles as well as Gobert around the basket. Rookie Donovan Mitchell connected on a three-pointer late in the period to put an exclamation point on the quarter for Utah.
With the Jazz leading 77-60 heading into the fourth quarter, and the majority of the Jazz starters done for the night, Aussie Dante Exum was able to put forward his case to coach Quin Snyder as to why he should be the team’s backup point guard heading into the regular season. Exum found Mitchell for an easy basket after driving into the lane and followed that up by earning a put back in transition.
The young Aussie was aggressive at the rim and picked up right where he left off at the end of last season, when he scored 15 points against the Warriors in the playoffs.
Exum finished the game with 11 points and 3 assists while Ingles chipped in with 4 points, 4 rebounds and five assists.
The Jazz went on to secure a comfortable 108-84 victory, but the Kings certainly had their moments. They were able to cut the Utah lead down 8 after being down by as much as 20 in the first half and settled into the game after the first 12 minutes. It was always going to be a tough task for Sydney. They had to travel across the world and play against a rested, more talented squad. However, the opportunity to participate in these NBL/NBA crossover games will be one that serves the club well heading into the NBL season.
The Kings represented the both the NBL and Australian basketball to their fullest. Well done Sydney!