NBL 2021: South East Melbourne Phoenix fade late in Illawarra Hawks surrender

It was all coming up Phoenix … until it wasn’t.

South East Melbourne looked the better team for the majority of its clash with bunny team Illawarra.

But the Hawks — having never beaten the Phoenix in six previous meetings — decided they were sick of the Melbourne team’s dominance, riding offensive weapons Tyler Harvey and Justinian Jessup to an unlikely come-from-behind win.

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Tyler Harvey hit a late dagger for the Hawks on his way to 22 points. Picture: Getty ImagesSource:Getty Images

Justinian Jessup turned into a human flamethrower after halftime. Picture: Getty ImagesSource:Getty Images

Ex-NBA-man Ryan Broekhoff made his first start and Keifer Sykes was back on the court as the Phoenix held the Hawks to just eight points in the first quarter — their lowest of NBL21 — before surrendering down the stretch in an 82-80 loss.

After Mitch Creek (15 points, 6 rebounds) and guard pairing Sykes (14pts) and Kyle Adnam pushed the Phoenix out to a 17-point lead in the third quarter, the game slowly turned after the long break.

From a dour defensive struggle Phoenix dominated, the floodgates opened into an old-fashioned shootout. Adnam, Jessup (a game-high 26pts, with 5 three-pointers, 6 rebs) and Harvey (22pts) traded big buckets down the stretch as South East Melbourne’s offence deserted it late and the Hawks locked in to turn the tables.

Jessup and Harvey — who went scoreless in the first quarter — caught fire in the last, scoring 21 of the Hawks’ 27 fourth-quarter points. A ridiculous deep three from Harvey gave the Hawks a four-point lead with 1min38sec to go and they would not look back from there.

After Sam Froling missed two free throws with a tick over 10 seconds to go in the game, the Phoenix did have a chance to win it, but Adam Gibson’s three ball rimmed out at the buzzer.

Keifer Sykes made a welcome return for Phoenix. Picture: Getty ImagesSource:Getty Images

Phoenix coach Simon Mitchell rued missed opportunities and a sloppy second half.

“It was disappointing for sure, (it) would have been tough for (Illawarra coach) Brian (Goorjian) and the Hawks to swallow if we had have nailed that last one, so it’s a very disappointing second half, I thought,” Mitchell said.

“We got up 17 there in the third and we just failed to seize the moment. Lots of opportunities there, even earlier.

“We were fumbly … some of that was their pressure but some of that was also just us being a little bit off tonight, too.”

Ryan Broekhoff was good early, before suffering an injury. Picture: Getty ImagesSource:Getty Images

Broekhoff’s first start ended before halftime in a blow for the Phoenix. The former Dallas Maverick took a tumble while defending Deng Adel in the post and, as play stopped moments later, signalled to the bench he had to come out. He would not return, sitting on the sidelines with strapping on his upper-left leg.

Adnam was incredible, draining five three-pointers and scoring 10 of his 22 points in the last. But it wasn’t enough as the Hawks got the Phoenix monkey off the back, after losing the last meeting between these two teams by a season-high 32-point margin.

The Hawks next-host the lowly Cairns Taipans Sunday for their third game of the round, while the Phoenix depart for the Harbour City for a pair of away games against the Sydney Kings — a bogey team they have never beaten.

Simon Mitchell was disappointed with his side’s second-half performance. Picture: Getty ImagesSource:Getty Images


After outrebounding the Hawks 18-8 in the first quarter and then taking a 41-30 lead into the halftime break, the Phoenix couldn’t maintain the rage. They had scored over 90 points in every clash with the Hawks in 2021, but could manage only 39 after the break, surrendering 52 at the other end and ending the rebound count only one ahead, 40-39.

Kyle Adnam is having a career year for the Phoenix. Picture: Getty ImagesSource:Getty Images


At one point in the third quarter, Sykes had 11 points in 11 minutes and Adnam 12 in 12. Adnam’s exposure in the starting line-up and uber-confidence has been the silver lining of the import’s injury absence. As Sykes regains confidence and form, the two of them now together will make for a relentless one-two point guard punch that opposition small men will be dreading as the NBL21 season heads for home.

Mitch Creek had 15 points for the Phoenix. Picture: Getty ImagesSource:Getty Images


For the second time in a little over a week, a chorus of boos rang out every time Creek touched the basketball. The 28-year-old is facing an assault charge, the case to be heard in court later this month. The decision to allow Creek, South East Melbourne’s best, to play has divided the community, with some saying he is innocent until proven guilty and others calling for him to be stood down until the case is heard.

Both Shane Heal and Derek Rucker think there would be a clear winner if the best of the NBL played against the best teams from the NCAA….

Both Shane Heal and Derek Rucker think there would be a clear winner if the best of the NBL played against the best teams from the NCAA.


The ex-NBA man was meant to be a key figure in the Illawarra resurgence in 2021. A pre-season knee injury and then quad trouble delayed Adel’s start to the season but, now 22 games in, the time for excuses is over. The 24-year-old is averaging less than seven points per game and, on Friday night, he did not score at all in nine first-half minutes, had no rebounds, no assists, no steals and no blocks. In fact, all he had for his trouble was a missed shot and a turnover. Ugly reading for Hawks fans.

Originally published asPhoenix fail to seize moment in Hawks fade out

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