Bullets bring down Hawks
Brisbane Bullets have won a hard-fought victory over the Illawarra Hawks at Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre. (video courtesy of NBL)
Brisbane have survived a late Illawarra fightback to win by eight points in their first NBL match since the departure of star man Perrin Buford.
The Bullets led throughout with Daniel Kickert scoring 21 points and were cruising at 19 points up at three-quarter time before holding off the surging Hawks to seal a 99-91 win at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre on Thursday night.
Kickert put in a fiery performance to match his words, after sending Buford on his way from Brisbane this week with the tweet "Once a quitter, always a quitter!"
Buford, the Bullets leading scorer, was released by the club who said the American import "was no longer committed to the team".
The win was the Bullets' first over the Hawks, on their eighth attempt, since their return to the NBL in 2016.
Stephen Holt came out firing for the home side, hitting eight of his 14 points in the first quarter as they established a 30-19 lead and extended it to an 18-point advantage at the long break.
The chances of comeback seemed slim with the Hawks down 77-58 at the end of the third but Rotnei Clarke hit eight of his 20 points in the last stanza and a three from former Bullet Rhys Martin closed the margin to four in the closing stages.
Travis Trice then kept his cool draining two sets of free throws, to take his tally to 12 points to go with his seven assists and six rebounds.
MVP contender Demetrius Conger top-scored with 21 for the visitors, who have now lost their past three.
The Bullets, after just their second win in 10 games, remain second-bottom of the ladder on 9-16, while Illawarra remain fifth with a 10-15 record, out of reach of a top-four playoff berth.
Bullets coach Andrej Lemanis hailed his team's performance, which he felt showed an improved culture without Buford.
"You are either a giver to the group or a taker from the group and if you consistently take over time people get sick of that and it shows a lack of care," he said.
"There was a nice connectedness amongst the group tonight. They stayed together they sorted through problems together, they were prepared to share the basketball. They played for each other and that's important for a team."
Hawks chief Rob Beveridge was conflicted between anger at his team's first-half display and pride at the way they forced themselves back into the game.
"Unfortunately it didn't go our way at the end but if you want to look positively at least we didn't get beat by 30 or 40 points on a pitiful, disgusting performance," he said. "The second half display ensured that didn't happen."