Kings struck as Breakers drew first blood in a bloody encounter

Superstar duo Xavier Cooks and Derrick Walton Jr. suffered late-game leg injuries as the New Zealand Breakers clinched first blood in the best-of-five NBL with a 95-87 Game 1 win over the Sydney Kings. Grand Finale series scored.

New Zealand backcourt duo Will McDowell-White (19 points, nine rebounds, nine assists) and Barry Brown Jr. (19 points from the bench) took turns to silence the 13,145 crowd at the Qudos Bank Arena on Friday night.

Meanwhile, Jarrell Brantley (16 points, seven boards) had the better marquee power forward match-up with league MVP Cooks (eight points at 20 percent).

Cooks’ night ended in the closing minutes when he limped off the pitch, minutes after Walton limped onto the bench midway through the fourth term with a right leg cramp.

Justin Simon (18 points) led the charge against the battered Kings, who were forced to come back for most of the evening.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 3: Justin Simon of the Kings is tackled by Barry Brown Jr. of the Breakers during game one of the NBL Grand Final Series between Sydney Kings and New Zealand Breakers at Qudos Bank Arena on March 3, 2023 in Sydney challenged , Australia. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

Justin Simon is challenged by Barry Brown Jr. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

The reigning champions hit the perimeter hard early, predictably, but a wayward 4-of-9 conversion rate from the foul line put them on the backfoot.

The Breakers’ bench – led by league-best sixth man Brown – topped Sydney’s 15-2 as the visitors took a 30-23 lead at quarter-time when Cooks’ misplay ended with McDowell-White’s alleyoop on Dererk Pardon.

McDowell-White’s expert penetration and moderation continued to hurt the hosts, who were overplayed in the second stanza.

The lead swelled to 14 points before Sydney’s best offense in the league finally started clicking against the Breakers’ most competitive defensive end.

Simon was pivotal as the Kings reduced the lead to 76-70 after three quarters, but an unsportsmanlike foul on Dejan Vasiljevic early in the fourth game restored the momentum to the Kiwis.

Brown ran with it, pouring in 13 points in the fourth quarter against an increasingly jaded Kings outfit on the track.

The series moves to Auckland for the second game on Sunday. Kings struck as Breakers drew first blood in a bloody encounter

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