The Sydney Kings survived a dream trip from Illawarra hometown Lachlan Dent to claim a 106-97 victory and get off to a winning start in their NBL title defense.
Kings import Derrick Walton Jr. scored 30 points, including 11 in his final season, showing why he is considered an MVP candidate.
And he had to put all his NBA experience together to extinguish the Snake Pit, which was lit by the glowing gunfire from Dent’s surprise source.
The second-year guard hit all seven shots, including five from long range, to lead the team to a one-point lead at the end of the final term on Saturday night.
Dent, who finished with 19 points, had 13 points in the final quarter alone.
But Walton Jr., who stepped into the point guard role vacated by last season’s MVP Jalen Adams, scored eight points in 90 seconds in a tense finish.
The former Detroit Pistons guard finished the night with a game-high 32 points with eight assists and four rebounds.
Kings coach Chase Buford said, “I felt like if he had kept attacking the rim, he could have scored 40.
“Derrick is not the only replacement for Jalen.
“I hope we can soon reach the stage of discussing this year’s group and leaving last year behind because it’s a different group.
“Eight assists, 5-8[shooting]every night, 30+ points, probably what you see consistently.
“We want to get 30, but it’s hard to ask someone to do it every night.
“The defense, the playmaking, the shootmaking that goes with it. You’re going to see that pretty consistently week after week from Derrick.”
Walton Jr. scored 24 points from captain Xavier Cooks, while former Hawks forward Justin Simon had 19 points, nine rebounds and four steals.
Simon’s points tally was well above his average of eight points per season with the Hawks in 2020/21.
After the first half, an upset loomed when Illawarra veteran Tim Coenrad helped push his team to a seven-point lead midway through the quarter.
But Kings guard Dejan Vasilyevich nailed three straight triples, including one from far beyond the arc, to regain a three-point margin in the final break.
Hawks star Tyler Harvey scored 18 points but was 1-7 from the distance, but the club would have been buoyed by Dent’s breakout performance.
“It was like being thrown into the ocean for a second,” Dent said.
“I probably ran out of gas halfway through the fourth shot. I was looking around to see who else could shoot.
“But I always win more than I lose.”
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