NEWCASTLE Hunters established their title credentials with an emphatic 90-69 victory over Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles in the Waratah Basketball League men’s game at Northern Beaches Indoor Sports Centre on Saturday night.
Led by American dynamic duo Austin Thornton (31 points, 14 rebounds) and Sharif Watson (17 points, 14 rebounds), the Hunters won their third straight game to climb to second with an 8-2 record, leap-frogging the Sea Eagles (7-2) in the process.
Thornton shot just six of 25 from the floor, including two of 11 from behind the three-point line, but amassed more than half his game-high tally from the free-throw line, making 17 of 18.
In the absence of floor leader Josh Morgan (calf), and veteran big men Steve Davis (neck) and Jon Howe (knee), Thornton played all 40 minutes and his experience proved significant as the Hunters dictated terms in the second half.
Newcastle led 37-34 at the long break, and 46-45 midway through the third quarter, but closed on a 19-10 run to take a 65-55 advantage into the final period and were never threatened again.
“It was an excellent team effort and we had a lot of contributors, which was very pleasing,” Newcastle coach Darren Nichols said.
“We took some time to find our feet, and there is still room for improvement, but we’re really starting to jell as a unit and I was especially happy with our defensive effort.”
Guards Jacob Foy (15 points, six rebounds) and Hayden Howell (10 points) also made valuable contributions, giving Newcastle four double-figure scorers.
Captain Ben Hawkesley chipped in with six points on three-of-three shooting, five rebounds, and his trademark toughness and enthusiasm at the defensive end.
Despite the absence of Davis and Howe, the Hunters out-rebounded the Sea Eagles 53-37.
Newcastle’s women’s team had a bye and remain fourth with a 5-3 record.
The Hunters men and women will play Penrith Panthers at Penrith next Saturday.
AAP reports: Aron Baynes and the Boston Celtics will take on the Cleveland Cavaliers in game one of the NBA eastern conference finals on Sunday (Monday 5.30am AEST) and the Australian says it will not be up to him, or any other single player, to deal with the extraordinary LeBron James.
"We know where the head of the snake is and we know what we have to focus on," Baynes said.
"But he's got a lot of great role players around him and some other guys that can really create out there, as well."
It was a team-first approach that led to the Celtics comprehensively defeating fellow Aussie Ben Simmons and his Philadelphia 76ers in five games.
Sixers coach Brett Brown marvelled at Boston's one-on-one defence, including Baynes's match-up with arguably the NBA's most dominant centre, Joel Embiid.
The Cavs have won two of the three regular-season meetings with the Celtics this season.
James is full of respect for the Celtics' players and coach Brad Stevens.
"They have guys who are damn good no matter whether they are young or not," James said.
"They know how to play basketball and their coach knows how to put them in a place to succeed."
Baynes, after playing a central role against the 76ers, may have less court time against Cleveland, who have a mobile starting line-up without a legitimate starting centre.
Stevens successfully countered the athletic Milwaukee Bucks in the first round of the playoffs by pulling Baynes from the starting line-up.
The Cavs have won two of the three regular season meetings with the Celtics but both teams are dramatically different in the playoffs.
Cleveland overhauled their team mid-season and Boston lost former Cavs star Kyrie Irving to a season-ending injury.
The winner of the best-of-seven series will play the victor of the highly-anticipated western conference finals series between the top-seeded Houston Rockets and the defending champions, Golden State Warriors, for the NBA title.
The Rockets host game one in Houston on Monday (Tuesday 11am AEST).