They wore their original singlets and played like the
original Breakers at times, but the defending champions
eventually burst to life against Wollongong last night to
barely win their sixth straight game, 72-71.
To mark heritage round in the Australian NBL, the Breakers
honoured their inaugural side at the North Shore Events
Centre and, for a half, the current players threatened to
take too seriously the homage to the past.
A lot of the Breakers' history from a decade ago isn't as
appealing to the eye as the blue and gold singlets they
sported tonight - and neither was the basketball on display
for the first 20 minutes.
But the Breakers recovered from scoring just 30 points in a
disjointed opening half to storm to a fourth quarter lead and
survive a nervy finish to edge it by one.
"I guess the good news about it is we're finding ways to win,
and that's what good teams do," said Dillon Boucher, a
foundation player at the club. "We weren't pretty for a lot
of the game tonight but we ended up doing enough to be on top
at the end of the game."
On paper, it should have been easier for the two-time champs.
The Hawks came into the contest with four straight losses to
their name and two of their best players - back court pair
Rhys Martin and Lance Hurdle - out for the season with
But Gordie McLeod's side have forged a habit in recent season
of troubling the ANBL front-runners. The Wollongong defences
usually provide problems for the Breakers, with the New
Zealanders' win across the Tasman two weeks ago their sixth
in 13 games against the Hawks.
As he did a week ago in Townsville, Tom Abercrombie found the
keys to eventually unlock the defence and his 15 points paced
the home side and continued his renaissance.
The Breakers had a habit of putting themselves in holes
before digging their way out on their four-game summer sweep
across the Tasman, and it was a habit they appeared to bring
back to the North Shore.
In a scrappy, defensive first half, the Breakers' offence
took time to click into gear but, fortunately for them, the
depleted Wollongong had similar struggles.
The two teams came into the clash ranked in the top three in
defence and that showed - though some disorderly offence from
both sides, particularly at the rim, was another contributor.
Wollongong led by five in the first quarter before the
Breakers tied it at 14 by the first break but, while the
Hawks began to take flight in the second, the home side still
seemed weary from the road trip.
The Breakers trailed 37-30 at the half after shooting just 32
per cent from the floor, and coach Andrej Lemanis thought the
problems at one end of their floor were a result of what was
happening under the other basket.
"We're a team that generates energy and intensity out of our
defence, and I thought we didn't do that in the first half,"
he said. "I thought in the second half we did a much better
job of addressing that."
It certainly looked that way as an increase in the effort
areas saw the Breakers force their way back into the contest,
doubling up Wollongong in rebounds for the third quarter and
scavenging for a number of loose balls.
The result was a 10-0 run for the defending champions which
saw the scores locked at 53 heading into the final quarter.
The Breakers appeared buoyed and the sold-out crowd was
responding, especially when Cedric Jackson completed a
trademark lob pass to Abercrombie to boost the Breakers' lead
But Wollongong continued to show just why they are the
Breakers' bogey team, staying right on their tails on forcing
the game to the final possession.
Fortunately for the Breakers Wollongong guard Adris Deleon -
who led all scorers with 34 - could convert only one of two
free throws and the Breakers hung on.
Breakers 72 (Abercrombie 15, Pledger 12, Jackson 10),
Wollongong 71 (Deleon 34, Forman 12, Macmillan 10). HT:
- Kris Shannon of APNZ