Replacement flyhalf Johan Goosen kicked a last-minute penalty to salvage a bonus point for the Cheetahs as they went down 39-33 against the Chiefs in their Super Rugby contest in Bloemfontein on Saturday.
The tourists, who picked up their sixth straight win, climbed to the top of the standings.
The Cheetahs showed their intent from the start and were up 3-0 thanks to flyhalf Sias Ebersohn.
His opposite number, Aaron Cruden, replied soon after with his own penalty to level the scores.
The Cheetahs looked the better attacking side in the first few minutes, but a couple of crucial passes not going to hand snubbed them of early chances.
The Chiefs also struggled with their rhythm, but gained momentum in the 20th minute after winger Lelia Masaga scored a five-pointer following a sniping run by fullback Andrew Horrell. Cruden converted to give the visitors a 10-3 lead.
Ebersohn kicked his second penalty, but the Chiefs continued to apply pressure, pinning the home side down on their goal line.
On the stroke of half-time, the hosts launched numerous attacks and gained another penalty after the Chiefs infringed at the breakdown.
Ebersohn's penalty kick was accurate and he put his side within one point of the visitors at the break.
The Cheetahs took the early advantage in the second half after Ebersohn struck a brilliant line kick to set up a line-out for his side, 10 metres from the Chiefs goal line.
After several phases, however, the visitors' defenders forced an error.
From the resulting scrum the Chiefs progressed to the Bloemfontein side's 22-metre line and prop Arizona Taumalolo burst over.
Ebersohn kicked his fourth successive penalty, keeping his team within striking distance, and soon after the Cheetahs' burly eighthman, Ashley Johnson intercepted and ran through to score in the corner, with Goosen, having replaced Ebersohn, converting for the lead.
Goosen kicked a long-range effort in the 56th minute to stretch his side's lead ever further.
The Chiefs regrouped after another Cruden penalty and in the 66th minute Taumalolo scored his second five-pointer, with the Cheetahs defenders left wanting. Cruden, however, could not convert.
He'd been quiet all night long, but centre Williams finally showed his class, scoring the Chiefs' fourth try for their bonus point in the 72nd minute.
Centre Richard Kahui scored their final try, and while Goosen dotted down for a late consolation try, he failed to convert.
He did, however, slot a penalty after the hooter sounded to give his side a much needed bonus point.
Chiefs: Tries: Lelia Masaga, Arizona Taumalolo (2), Sonny Bill Williams, Richard Kahui. Conversions: Aaron Cruden (4). Penalties:
Cruden (2) Cheetahs: Tries: Ashley Johnson, Johan Goosen. Conversions: Johan Goosen. Penalties: Sias Ebersohn (4), Goosen (3). – Sapa