Sydney Kings star Jaylen Adams showed why he was crowned NBL MVP after producing a dominant performance against the Illawarra Hawks in Game 1 of their semi-final series.

The return of Jaylen Adams has spearheaded a winning break for the Sydney Kings’ best-of-three semi-final series, holding off bitter rivals Illawarra Hawks on their home court before a pumping capacity crowd in Wollongong.

But not before 5621 willed a late charge by Illawarra to continue the rich rivalry which gets better with every match.

Imposing himself from the outset on Friday night, newly-crowned MVP Adams had 16 points by half-time, and 23 by three-quarter time, dominating the floor to establish a 19-point lead by the main break.

But the Hawks weren’t about to let the stretch of four matches decided by eight points or less this season be broken without a fight.

The hosts reduced the deficit to as little as three in the final quarter, but desperate defence and stops at the rim, proved pivotal down the stretch as the Kings fought their way to a 89-79 win, to break the trend.

“I think we got some huge rebounds, some big stops,” coach Chase Buford said.”I thought our defence in the first half, especially that second quarter was probably the best it was all game.”

Hawks’ Duop Reath with 26 points and 10 rebounds, supported by NBL Defensive Player of the Year Antonius Cleveland (21 points) led the charge in the fightback.

Adams missed the Kings’ last two matches due to illness, including Sunday’s three-point loss to Illawarra at Qudos Bank Arena, and the difference was telling early in Wollongong on Friday night, whether at the paint or from range.

The star American import finished the match with 30 points for the first time in some two months, helped again by the double-doubles king this season Xavier Cooks, who notched his 15th for the campaign (11 points, 10 rebounds).

“JA (what can I say). The floater he hit, a couple of threes he hit, just tough, tough baskets. A hell of a basketball player bailing us out and making some great plays.” Buford commended his star guard post-match.

Sydney’s win taking the crucial one-game advantage back home to Qudos on Sunday and extending a remarkable streak on the road to 11 straight.

MVP RETURNS

Jaylen Adams was back in the starting five showing exactly why he earned that honour on Wednesday, no better encapsulated by ESPN’s Corey ‘Homicide’ Williams.

“Jaylen Adams is setting the table. Leading from front, getting buckets, as well as creating plays for others. He’s taking this defence apart,” he commented in the first half.

There were no signs of any fatigue from the illness Adams had been battling, and like fellow American Jarell Martin who returned last Sunday from COVID protocols, the extra five-day break had done them and the Kings the world of good, as Buford indicated post-match last week.

The soon to be 26-year-old next week – beat three-time NBL MVP Bryce Cotton by 11 votes on Wednesday night to win the Andrew Gaze Trophy as the competition’s best player.

AWAY STREAK CONTINUES

Both teams entered the playoffs with superior records away versus home, with 11 wins for Illawarra and 10 for the Kings, and for the visitors, it played to their strengths.

An 11th straight road win made it 15 wins from the last 17 for the resurgent Sydney side, both lost at home coincidentally.

Not only do Sydney have the upper hand in the best of three series now, they also have the edge on Illawarra’s home turf having won five of their last six matches against the Hawks in Wollongong, if game three is required on Tuesday.

BUFORD GETS HIS WISH

Despite costing him $10,000, Chase Buford got his wish on Friday night with leading NBL referee Chris Reid appointed to the Melbourne United-Tasmania JackJumpers semi-finals series.

Buford was sanctioned for comments made after last Sunday’s three-point loss to the Kings at Qudos Bank Arena hoping Reid would not “be in charge.” A statement he admitted was immature and emotional during the week.

Plus the fine, Buford received a single match suspension suspended until the end of the 2022/23 NBL Season for multiple breaches of the NBL Code of Conduct.

The Kings’ mentor defying his inexperience – at 33 years of age and in his rookie NBL season – beating the six-time champion Brian Goorjian making his 22nd semi-finals appearance.

Originally published as NBL22: MVP Jaylen Adams stars as Sydney Kings defeat Illawarra Hawks in Game 1 of semi-final series

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