Christmas night upsets in the NBL: Illawarra continues form resurgence under new coach, while the Phoenix surged late in Tassie


The Illawarra Hawks continue to show how far they have come under new coach Justin Tatum with a gritty 94-90 win over the Sydney Kings on Christmas Day at Qudos Bank Arena.

Sydney have won the past two NBL championships and have had the wood over their nearest neighbours, winning eight straight against Illawarra.

However, this is a different Hawks team since Tatum replaced Jacob Jackomas over the past six games.

Illawarra had won three of the past four and then put in a disappointing showing on Saturday at home to lose to the Tasmania JackJumpers.

Their resilience and hunger, however, were on show in front of 8578 fans against the Kings on Christmas evening.

It was the determination and focus the players showed against the Kings that have been dramatically improved under Tatum.

In the end, the two biggest plays of the game to seal the win provided evidence of that improvement.



— Illawarra Hawks Basketball (@illawarrahawks) December 25, 2023

It started with an offensive rebound from Next Star Lachlan Olbrich to set up veteran import forward Gary Clark to hit the go-ahead basket with 34 seconds remaining.

Up the other end, sharpshooter Hyunjung Lee was determined to grab the defensive rebound, which led to Justin Robinson icing the game at the foul line.

It meant the Hawks beat the Kings for the first time since April 24, 2022.

The victory improves the Hawks to 6-9 for the season with four wins from six games under Tatum – and they had to overcome an 18-point deficit in the second quarter to do it.

They were back within two points by half-time, then closed the job, finishing with eight of the final 10 points, with Sam Froling leading the charge with 20 points and eight rebounds.

Tyler Harvey hit four three-pointers for 15 points, with Robinson adding 14 points and five assists, Lee 13 points on 3-of-4 three-point shooting, and Olbrich nine points and 10 rebounds.

Tatum trumpeted the efforts of 19-year-old Olbrich after the match.

“Lachie Olbrich was MVP tonight and we told him that at half-time, and at the end of the game,” Tatum said.

“He was the reason it started that spark for us and he came in and gave us some energy, and life.

“He’s the MVP of this and that’s what’s special about this group – you don’t know who is going to show up, and guys are going to be ready when they get the opportunity.”

It’s a double loss round for Sydney on the back of losing to New Zealand on Friday, with the reigning champs slipping to 9-8.

Jaylen Adams top-scored with 22 points and five assists, with DJ Hogg adding 15 points, six rebounds and four assists, and Kouat Noi 14 points.

Kings coach Mahmoud Abdelfattah pointed to conceding 18 offensive rebounds to the Hawks for 16 second-chance points as the major difference.

“Kudos to them, but the difference in the game was that they out-rebounded us,” he said.

“It’s a bit about effort, understanding and being in the correct spots on the floor with the rotations, and knowing where you’re supposed to be at and when, and who you’re guarding.”

Head Coach of the Hawks, Justin Tatum, winks to the camera after the round 12 NBL win over Sydney Kings. (Photo by Mark Evans/Getty Images)

Gutsy Phoenix defy the odds to beat JackJumpers

It was not the only game of Christmas Day basketball in the NBL, as South East Melbourne Phoenix produced a morale-boosting performance full of heart to upset the Tasmania JackJumpers 85-77 in Hobart.

It was greeted by a sold-out crowd at MyState Bank Arena and the odds were stacked against the Phoenix. They arrived on the back of losing their past three matches to Melbourne, Illawarra and Cairns by a combined 75 points.

To top that off they were still missing captain Mitch Creek, along with Craig Moller and Gorjok Gak.

Star centre Alan Williams also collected a fourth foul early in the second quarter, and 320-game veteran Reuben Te Rangi went down with a lower leg injury.

If that wasn’t enough, they were up against the second-placed JackJumpers, who were on their home floor in special Christmas uniforms with a raucous crowd behind them, but South East Melbourne just wouldn’t be denied.

The offence didn’t flow for the Phoenix as they ended up shooting 26-of-77 from the field at 33 per cent with 6-of-25 from deep, but this was a performance full of heart and character.

To Williams’ credit, he started the second half and played out the rest of the game to have a significant impact with 11 points and six rebounds, but he had terrific help.

Ben ???? creating Christmas miracles!

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— South East Melbourne Phoenix (@SEMelbPhoenix) December 25, 2023

South East Melbourne got to the foul line 29 times and made 27 while out-rebounding Tasmania 55 to 40, including racking up a monstrous 24 offensive boards for 22 second-chance points.

The Phoenix were in control most of the way, but the JackJumpers kept making charges, including back-to-back threes from Jordon Crawford and Jack McVeigh going into half-time to lead 40-39.

However, when Gary Browne hit consecutive threes to start the fourth quarter, the Phoenix were back up by five and held firm from there for a gutsy win to improve to 9-9 on the season.

Browne finished with 20 points, 11 rebounds and six assists, with new signing Abdel Nader adding 20 points and seven boards on 11-of-12 field goal shooting, despite 4-of-15 from the field.

Phoenix coach Mike Kelly couldn’t have been more proud of his under-fire team.

“It’s just elation at how the guys did what they said they were going to do, which was give great effort,” he said.

“Even though we had some mistakes, the intent and the effort was fantastic. Guys from everywhere stepped up and just played hard.”

The JackJumpers are now 10-8, despite 20 points from Jack McVeigh, 18 from Milton Doyle and 12 from Crawford with eight rebounds, four assists and three steals.

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JackJumpers coach Scott Roth said South East Melbourne deserved the win.

“Congratulations to South East, if we would have ended up winning that game we wouldn’t have deserved to win it at all,” he said.

“We were horrendous with our foul discipline and then obviously 24 offensive rebounds. That’s a recipe for disaster.

“They outworked us in a lot of different areas, outscrapped us, outworked us and deserved the win.”

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