American import Jarell Martin has stood tall to help the Sydney Kings keep their NBL top four hopes alive with an 81-76 win over the New Zealand Breakers.
Desperate for a victory after going down to the Breakers 89-81 in Auckland on Thursday night, the Kings reeled in an eight-point second-quarter deficit in New Plymouth on Saturday night to clinch only their second win in six games and remain in the playoff picture.
Martin silenced the Breakers faithful by dropping 29 points and nine rebounds as Sydney remained fifth on a congested table with a 16-16 record and five games left to play.
The log jam for finals spots also features third-place South East Melbourne Phoenix (17-14), No.4 outfit Illawarra Hawks (16-15) and sixth-ranked Brisbane Bullets (14-15).
The Bullets host the Phoenix on Saturday night.
Playing only their second home game of the season, the Breakers kept the sell out crowd of more than 2000 fans on their feet when they led 24-23 at the first break, 44-38 at halftime and 61-57 at the final interval but the Kings were not to be denied.
Martin helped Sydney keep the Breakers at bay despite some anxious moments after Corey Webster dropped a booming three-pointer to cut the visitors' lead to 78-76 with five seconds left.
Casper Ware (15 points) and Jordan Hunter (14 points, seven rebounds) also impressed for the visitors who shot only 2-of-15 from three-point range but made up for it with new found defensive grit.
While impressed with his team's fightback, Kings coach Adam Forde dipped his hat to the Breakers (10-21 record) who are out of playoff contention but look like a different team now they have finally returned home to play out their final seven games of the season in New Zealand.
Forde even suggested Breakers mentor Dan Shamir should be in the Coach of the Year discussion, saying the Kiwi outfit would be a top four team if they had not been on the road for the last five months due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.
"You have to respect what Dan has done," Forde said.
"Imagine if they had a proper home and away schedule. I would quite confidently call them a top four team."
Shamir was more concerned with the lop-sided free throw count after the Kings shot 33-of-39 and Breakers 12 from 15.
"It is very unusual. It has to do with basketball issues but also it is also a refereeing issue that needs to be addressed," he said.
Breakers star guard Tai Webster (12 points, seven rebounds, five assists) fouled out for the fourth time in five games with more than two minutes left while Levi Randolph led the hosts with 25 points.