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Revenge is a dish best served cold but the Breakers' fourth quarter against Wollongong tonight was as blistering as they come.
After falling to the Hawks five nights ago in Australia, the same opposition who earlier in the season handed the Breakers their only home loss, retribution was squarely on the Breakers' minds at the NSEC.
And they got just that, winning 82-74 after a scorching final quarter which saw the league leaders turn a tight two-point lead into a eight-point win, thanks in large to Tom Abercrombie's 11 points in the final period.
The Breakers failed to play at the vengeful best for most of the game, but that mattered little in the end as they extended their lead over Perth at the top of the Australian NBL.
With just six games in the regular season remaining, and only two at their North Shore fortress, tonight's win was hugely important if the Breakers (16-6) are to pip Perth (14-7) for the minor premiership.
It was also imperative mentally as, despite the Hawks (6-15) being well out of play-off contention, the defending champions' lustre would have been diminished if a team of Wollongong's calibre so definitively owned them throughout the season.
In the end, the season series between the sides was split at two, owing a lot to the Breakers' shackling of Hawks' forward Oscar Forman. A former Breaker, Forman torched his old team for 29 points last weekend, but was held to just five points tonight.
Breakers coach Andrej Lemanis said an all-around improvement on defence was the reason for Forman's failure to replicate his heroics from last weekend.
"We just paid more attention to him. Obviously we were aware of the scout _ the scout is always the same on Oscar _ you don't let him catch and shoot. We just executed a bit better tonight.''
Abercrombie finished with a game-high 25, while point guard Cedric Jackson had 20 points to go with a game-high 10 rebounds. Lemanis pointed to a period of 10 minutes either side of the final break as the turning point, and it was in this period Abercrombie stepped up.
"Tom has the ability to do that. We needed to be more aggressive going to the rim and take our opportunities to find driving lanes. Certainly in that second half, the switch went off in Tom and he started to get aggressive.''
Aside from Abercrombie's outburst and Forman's ineffectiveness, Lemanis believed the main difference between the contrasting results in the double header was his side's bad reaction to a loss.
"Some things we did about changing the way we were going to play them, guys did a good job of buying into that and committed to the cause for the length of the game.''
The Breakers had no problem shackling Forman early in the game, with some tighter and more physical guarding from Mika Vukona ensuring the Breakers' chief destroyer was held without a shot in the first half. Despite Forman being shut down, the Hawks still went to the opening break with a two-point lead.
Midway through the second that lead was out to eight, the largest of the night for either side, but the Breakers managed to cut the deficit to two by the major intermission with the sides' similarities extending beyond the 40-38 scoreline.
The Breakers shot 48 per cent from the floor in the first half, slightly better than the Hawks' 47 per cent. Both sides had a feeble four assists, while Wollongong shaded the turnover count (8-7).
But the Breakers of old began to show in the third quarter, reversing the two-point gap to take a slim lead into the final quarter, and that advantage quickly grew to seven midway through the period with some momentum-building plays.
By the time Abercrombie drained a three with a few minutes left on the clock, the lead had swollen to double figures for the first time all night, and the Breakers had all but vanquished their nemesis.
Breakers 82 (Abercrombie 25, Jackson 20, Bruton 13)
Wollongong 74 (Catron 14, Ubaka 13, Martin 12)
- Kris Shannon, APNZ