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The New Zealand Breakers are heading towards a playoff berth in the Australian NBL after grinding out a vital victory.
The Breakers held off the Illawarra Hawks 77-73 to move to 14-9 on the NBL ladder, well ahead of the fifth-placed Hawks (10-13).
With both teams having five games left in their season, the Hawks would need to win out, and hope the Breakers lose all their remaining games – a highly unlikely scenario considering how tight the league has been in recent weeks.
Tonight's victory was in some ways a microcosm of the Breakers' inconsistent run of late. They struggled mightily for patches, but whenever it looked like the game was getting away from them, they found their rhythm just in time.
Once again, there was no standout for the Breakers – their top scorer was Edgar Sosa with 12 points – but they had handy contributions at critical times from a bunch of players to get across the line.
While it was Sosa who hit the dagger three pointer which sealed the Breakers' victory, just as crucial were the early contributions which dragged the visitors out of a 15-5 deficit.
With Rakeem Christmas' introduction into the starting lineup not going to plan, the Hawks shot out of the gates through Rotnei Clarke and Nick Kay.
However, their approach was top-heavy compared to the Breakers' egalitarianism, with Clarke (15 points), Kay (17), and Demitrius Conger (24 points) being the only Hawks to score more than five points.
As the Hawks relied on their starters, the Breakers counted on their bench contributions to dig them out of trouble. Two of their bench mob – Kirk Penney and Rob Loe – kept them afloat in the third quarter, hitting timely threes as the Breakers' somewhat plodding offence (42 per cent shooting, and 28 per cent from three) combined with their commited defensive second-half display to produce slightly more juice than Illawarra (36 per cent from the field).
The Breakers tallied 38 points from their bench, but their starters came to the party just in time in the fourth quarter. A brief DJ Newbill spark was followed by three straight buckets from Mika Vukona as they hit the front for good, before Sosa finished the game off.
The Breakers have the chance to officially lock in their playoff spot when the Hawks visit Auckland on Sunday afternoon.
Breakers 77 (Sosa 12, Loe 11, Newbill 11)
Hawks 73 (Conger 24, Kay 17, Clarke 15)