Xavier Cooks with a windmill finish in dominant win over the Perth Wildcats. (Image: Sydney Kings)

A strong team effort on both sides of the floor reminds all of us why the Sydney Kings are the team to beat in NBL23, with Xavier Cooks putting on a superstar performance for their fourth consecutive win this season over the Perth Wildcats.

Two heavy shot-creating teams Sydney Kings and Perth Wildcats have showcased many times their ability to finish shots in creative ways.

With Derrick Walton’s return, the Sydney Kings returned to their usual heavy ball and player movement offence, allowing the big men through the pick and roll to slip and attack the rim, which they’ve executed successfully throughout the season.

On his way to 24 points, Xavier Cooks was aggressive from start to finish, attacking the rim with ease, playing with his back to the basket, and isolation ball against any defender, getting any shot he wanted with his strength and physicality.

“We try our best to give him [Xavier Cooks] the ball in good spots. In the past two years, he’s shown whatever stakes the game is, he raises his level to the game,” Sydney Kings head coach Chase Buford said post-match.

The Wildcats struggled to get going early, with their best player on the night being Corey Webster, who had 22 points. Their possessions relied on catch-and-shoot shots and pick and rolls plays coming off handoff actions on the wing of the perimeter.

The early foul trouble from TaShawn Thomas and Mitch Norton, combined with the absence of Luke Travers (due to illness) meant Perth head coach John Rillie had to go to his bench a lot earlier than he would have wanted. In the first half, the Wildcats looked in panic mode and it allowed the Kings to dictate the pace and tone of the game.

The Sydney Kings played strong defence, having well-timed blocks, coming up with steals and blocks, getting out the fastbreak, hustling for the loose balls, and grabbing second-chance rebounds.

Their bench and role players would be a tremendous contribution throughout the game, with Jordan Hunter and Kouat Noi making big-time, high-IQ basketball plays with their shot selection as well as their defence.

Justin Simons showcased his vision with his high IQ finds of open teammates and used his length and expertise on the defensive end.

The playmaking from the Kings was created on a larger scale compared to their recent win against the Phoenix, allowing plays like a Justin Simon pass to Walton Jr for an easy layup around the rim and ball movement being divided up between whoever was on the court at all times.

The second half wasn’t as strong and high quality as the first half. However, Derrick Walton Jr would be a valuable standout to the offence in the later stages of the game.

“I thought especially in the second half there were a few moments where we were struggling to score, we gave them a little run and Derrick would just make a play either to go get someone to lay up or to get himself to the foul line,” Buford said.

After halftime, the Perth Wildcats went on an 8-1 run in the first minute and a half to begin the third quarter. Their hustle on second-chance rebounds and putbacks, as well as their scoring, started heating up after a slow first half. 

Bryce Cotton, Brady Manek, and TaShawn Thomas joined Corey Webster in having a double-digit scoring clinic, helping cut down the lead to as low as 12 points before the fourth quarter against a very confident Kings side.

Despite the fightback in the third, the Wildcats struggled to make a comeback in the fourth quarter, continuing their turnover patterns and struggling to defend the fastbreak.

“We’re just trying to change up our defences, be a little disruptive. I looked up at the scoreboard and [the difference] was in the 14 to 18 range, so we had to try and do something,” Perth Wildcats coach John Rillie said in the post-match press conference.

“We played the best team, they [Sydney Kings] kicked our butt, plain and simple,”

The Sydney Kings finished the game with multiple highlight plays, including a Xavier Cooks windmill. 

The Sydney Kings will head to Nissan Arena to play the Brisbane Bullets on Wednesday night. While the Perth Wildcats host the New Zealand Breakers on Tuesday night.

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