A fourth-quarter defensive masterclass has propelled the Sydney Kings into their second successive NBL Grand Final with a 79-64 victory over the Cairns Taipans.
The reigning champions saw their 11-point second-quarter lead reduced to two early in the fourth period of Game 3 at Qudos Bank Arena on Sunday before shutting the Taipans out down the stretch, outscoring them 17-6 in the final term.
Dejan Vasiljevic (15 points) rediscovered his shooting touch when it mattered, aided by fellow guard Derrick Walton Jr (10 points, nine assists), while captain Xavier Cooks (11 points, 11 rebounds) shrugged off his Game 2 ankle injury.
Reserve guard Ben Ayre (20 points) did what Jonah Antonio (Game 1) and Lat Mayen (Game 2) did earlier in the series, stepping up as a surprise packet for the undermanned Taipans, with Shannon Scott (hamstring) and Keanu Pinder (fractured eye socket) sidelined.
Sam Waardenburg (17 points, 12 rebounds) was tremendous but the Snakes didn't receive the usual impact from imports DJ Hogg and Tahjere McCall.
"We just got hot for a quarter in the end and that was pretty much the difference," Kings coach Chase Buford said.
"I thought Justin Simon on DJ Hogg was an elite performance defensively, which was a key, and the way X (Cooks) guarded McCall really helped us."
Walton Jr's dazzling, mid-air, no-look assist for Vasiljevic's first triple of the series gave Sydney the early edge before Ayre spearheaded an 11-0 burst to give Cairns a 26-20 quarter-time lead.
The Kings got right on top at both ends with a 28-13 second term to pull ahead 48-39 at halftime.
The tension was palpable just before the long break when Cooks exchanged pleasantries with Ayre and McCall.
Cooks and Ayre clashed again late in the third stanza.
Sydney's lead was sliced to 62-58 at the end of the third quarter as Waardenburg and Ayre piloted a Cairns rearguard.
Waardenburg's bucket in the opening 30 seconds of the fourth reduced the margin to two points but the Taipans, playing their fifth game in 11 days having to take the scenic route from the seeding qualifier, ran out of gas.
Cairns missed their last 13 field goals while Vasiljevic broke the Taipans' back - and his own slump - with back-to-back triples down the stretch to seal victory.
"My level of disappointment is not in the sense of how we shot or anything along those lines," Cairns coach Adam Forde said.
"There were signs of fatigue, dudes are carrying injuries ... I can't fault the fellas. They put up so much fight.
"Proud of them."