Historic night for Australian sport as crowd flocks to Kings’ big win over Melbourne in first Xmas Day showdown

    The first Christmas Day match in the NBL has been hailed a success after more than 7000 fans clocked to Qudos Bank Arena to watch the Kings venture into what they called “one of the last frontiers in Australian sport”.

    While the match was not the see-sawing contest that would have been fit for the historic occasion, Sydney have broken new ground with a 101-80 defeat of NBL rivals Melbourne United in Australia’s first professional sporting fixture on Christmas Day.

    Sunday’s game heralded a new dawn not just for the NBL but Australian sport as rival codes await broadcast figures to determine whether to plan their own festive fixtures. 

    “Hopefully it’ll help build the league around the country,” Kings coach Chase Buford said.

    “It sounds like we (the NBL) will probably be back at it again next year.”

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    Thanks to all the staff, players and fans as well as everyone at home for making this night special ???? pic.twitter.com/D0QeGkpSeq

    — NBL (@NBL) December 25, 2022

    United missed veteran David Barlow (concussion) and captain Chris Goulding, who withdrew on game day through illness, and struggled to contain the Kings’ own marquee man Xavier Cooks (24 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists).

    The visitors dropped behind early as they recalibrated in Goulding’s absence and never led at any point, despite briefly closing the gap in a scrappy third quarter.

    Nevertheless, coach Dean Vickerman said United would leave Sydney feeling positive, having participated in history.

    “It was a privilege to be a part of,” he said.

    “We spoke about that as a group. We had our American players talk about how they grow up wanting to play on Christmas Day. 

    “It’s the big day to play (in the NBA), other than the play-offs.”

    SOARES STUFFS THE CHIMNEY ????

    Watch #NBL23 live on ESPN via Kayo Freebies and Foxtel | Live & free on Channel 10 in VIC, NSW | Live & free on 10 Peach and 10 play all other states and territories pic.twitter.com/y6JUg17aC5

    — NBL (@NBL) December 25, 2022

    Rayjon Tucker (31 points) and Isaac Humphries (16 points, six blocks) stepped up for United without Goulding and helped piece together a 14-3 run just before halftime but had too little help from their teammates.

    Only four of the 10 players used by United had registered points by halftime, with import Xavier Rathan-Mayes and starters Mason Peatling and Brad Newley among those to go scoreless into the main change.

    “We would have loved more scorers,” said United coach Dean Vickerman. “We probably set a club record, shooting 51 three (attempts) tonight. 

    “With Barlow out with a concussion and CG out sick, there was some composure and some shooting that we were missing a little bit tonight.”

    United drew level midway through the third quarter but the Kings began to work Tucker, holding him scoreless from only three field goal attempts for the period.

    Sydney looked to their bench to build back their lead, with Jaylin Galloway, Angus Glover and Jordan Hunter all getting in on the action.

    Cooks made a successful return from the ankle injury that forced him out of the Kings’ last game and was particularly effective at exploiting United early on.

    Xavier Cooks competes for the ball with Isaac Humphries and Xavier Rathan-Mayes. (Photo by Mark Evans/Getty Images)

    He helped the Kings kick their recent habit of fading from games late and resumed control in the final quarter to finish one-point shy of his best haul for the season.

    The only sour note for the Kings came when Derrick Walton Jr limped off late but Buford doubted whether the import had sustained a serious injury.

    “I think it was just a cramp. He was trying to go back in the game. He said he’d had enough rest,” Buford said.

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