Calm Clarke holds the key in showdown

Nerves won’t be an issue for Wollongong import Rotnei Clarke when the Hawks take the stage for Friday night’s highly anticipated showdown with Sydney.

The Hawks’ leading scorer (21.7 points per game)  played in plenty of high stakes games when he was starring in high school and college teams in the United States.

As far as regular season games go, they don’t get any bigger than the final-round duel with the Kings.

Both teams know that the winner will claim the last available semi-final berth. The loser misses out.

Such a scenario brings pressure, but Clarke is typically staying cool.

‘‘I don’t usually get too nervous. I’ve played in a lot of situations and different environments like we’re in now,’’ he said.

‘‘You definitely get excited. We understand and I’m sure the Kings understand that it’s a huge game. It’s a must-win for both of us. We each have the ability to dictate whether we’re going to be in the playoffs or not.’’

Sydney have failed to overcome two teams this season – minor premiers Perth and  Wollongong.

The Hawks won the first game in Wollongong by four points before accounting for the big city boys on their home floor by six and by 18.

If the Kings can’t find the answers on Friday, the Hawks will finish fourth and Sydney will be left to ponder where they went wrong.

‘‘This is my first year here and I don’t know a ton about the rivalry, but I do know it is a rivalry,’’ Clarke said of the long-standing animosity between Sydney and Wollongong.

‘‘Whether it’s the big-city boys versus the small-town boys, I’m not sure, but I know it’s a serious game, as rivalry games always are. The fact we’re playing for a playoff spot makes it that much bigger. The playoffs were a goal for us at the start of the season so this is a huge game for us.’’

Clarke torched the Kings with 39 points when they last met and has averaged 27 in three wins against Sydney.

‘‘It’s just been about the situations,’’ he said.

‘‘My teammates did a good job of finding me, but it’s not about one guy tomorrow, it’s a collective team effort.’’

Clarke briefly earned the wrath of Kings followers when the Hawks thrashed Sydney by 18 in the previous meeting, not that he could do much about it. The 180-centimetre guard lost his shoe at one point and boos rained down from the pro-Sydney crowd when the referees gave him a few seconds to get it back on.

‘‘I don’t think the Kings fans were happy with it,’’ he said after his 39-point explosion.

‘‘But I looked over at [Sydney guard Ben] Madgen and said ‘what do you want me to do? I fell out of my shoe’. My sock had just slipped, but I got it back on and it was fine.’’

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