THE Sydney Kings have eased pressure on coach Andrew Gaze with a heart-stopping 99-94 overtime NBL victory over the Illawarra Hawks yesterday in Wollongong.
Losers of their previous two games by a combined 47 points, the Kings proved they can win without injured captain Kevin Lisch, boosting their season record to 2-4 while leaving the Hawks stranded at the bottom of the ladder on 1-5.
Import forward Perry Ellis had 22 points and guard Jason Cadee finished with 21 for the Kings, while AJ Ogilvy (22) and Rotnei Clarke (21) led the Hawks.
Cadee had a chance to seal the game in regulation time from the free throw line with the Kings leading 88-86 and only 30 seconds remaining.
Instead he missed both shots and then fouled Ogilvy on a scoring play under the basket which leveled the match at 88-all with a foul shot to come and just over two seconds on the clock.
This time it was the Hawks turn to choke with Ogilvy's free throw off target to give sydney a second chance in overtime.
Gaze was clearly relieved afterwards but denied he'd been feeling the intense scrutiny caused by his team's poor start.
"I didn't feel under siege or that there was any pressure internally," Gaze said. "When you're not playing well you have to cop the criticism and roll with the punches.
"To get a win here today (Sunday) is great and it certainly helps morale, but we've got a long way to go." Illawarra coach Rob Beveridge was furious with his side's 23 turnovers.
"We've got to a point where we've lost respect for the ball," Beveridge said. "We're very flippant at times and we're struggling for consistency because we're just not clicking.
"People will look at our record and write us off, but it's a tough group of guys and I believe in them that they'll stay together and continue to fight." Sparked by Clarke's hot perimeter shooting, the Hawks were ahead 23-19 at quarter-time and stretched the margin to 10 early in the second period.
But Ellis scored nine points to keep the Kings in striking distance before Cadee flicked the switch with three straight three-point bombs to tie it at 43-all.
Sydney took advantage of the home team's sloppy execution (10 turnovers) and built a 48-45 halftime lead, with Ellis and Cadee combining for 31 points.
Sydney led by as many as nine in the third quarter and were up 70-69 at three- quarter time.
Illawarra are away to Brisbane on Friday night, while the Kings face the league- leading Wildcats in Perth on Friday before hosting the Hawks on Sunday afternoon.