Tom Abercrombie taking charge
Nobody was more relieved than Tom Abercrombie when the emotionally scarred Breakers swingman finally managed to step up and win a game with all that talent of his.
With all due respect to the young man, it had been a while coming.
The watershed moment - and Abercrombie is hopeful it will become a turning point - came last Friday in Townsville when Abercrombie took over a tight contest in the final three minutes.
The springy one nailed four straight jump shots for a haul of nine points in two and a half minutes, all from the right side of the court, and all off a pretty standard downscreen set. Abercrombie did the rest as he propelled the Breakers from a late 71-76 deficit to an 82-78 victory that gave them a clean sweep of their quartet of holiday road games.
His 19-point haul for the night was not his statistical high point of the season - he had 20 in a victory in Melbourne - but it was the first time he had taken charge of a game in such a manner.
It was also the first time, since last April's fateful foul by Peter Crawford late in the semi-final decider at Vector, that we'd seen the Breakers' most talented player explode like we all know he's capable of. It was the Abercrombie of old, and it sent a swathe of Breakers fans to bed that night with smiles on their dials.
Abercrombie, too, as it happened.
"It felt great at the end of that game to be able to have a big impact on the result, and certainly I was pretty excited afterwards," reflected Abercrombie yesterday as preparations were launched for tomorrow night's sold-out NSEC clash against the under-manned Wollongong Hawks.
"It was a great comeback (from 15 down at the half), I was feeling very confident in my shot, I went looking for the ball, managed to find myself in some open positions and I was confident enough to let it fly. My team-mates did a great job of putting the ball in my hands and putting their faith in me."
It has not been an easy campaign for Abercrombie, after surgery on his problem ankle over the off-season and then having to sit out the entire pre-season while he strengthened his wobbly wheel.
And by his own admission he's been a long way from full mobility as he's worked through a season that sees the Breakers sitting in a familiar position atop the standings, with a league-best 13-3 record.
"I've been working very hard, doing a lot of extra stuff trying to get myself back to a level I'm comfortable with," he said. "It's a work in progress. Sometimes you don't see the results straight away and it takes a little while.
"I hope this is a turning point for me. It's been a frustrating season for me individually so far, but all you can control is the next game and I feel like I did some positive things the last game and I want to keep building on that."
CJ Bruton reckoned Abercrombie's All-Star appearance and the relaxed nature of that occasion helped restore some much needed confidence. Abercrombie was not going to argue on that point.
"It's definitely the best I've felt all season, and it continues to get better little by little. I'm still doing a lot of stuff off the court to improve and I'll just keep chipping away with it as we go on.
"But it was great to see some shots going through the hoop last week, and the biggest thing was my team-mates all have great confidence in me and I just need to go out with that aggressive mindset no matter what happens."
Coach Andrej Lemanis has noticed the effort Abercrombie has been putting in as he's looked to find the groove that saw him rated the league's most explosive talent over the previous two seasons.
"It always just takes a little time to start seeing the benefits and results on game night. It's nice to see him get the reward for that effort."
Timely too. The Breakers very much feel like they've got another level to go to over the second part of this season, and Abercrombie shapes as a big part of that equation.
Meanwhile, the Hawks will have to overcome a shattering double injury blow if they're to upset the Breakers at the NSEC tomorrow night.
Wollongong have lost their starting backcourt of Rhys Martin and American Lance Hurdle to season-ending ACL injuries, promoting Lemanis to warn his team that they will have to "beware the wounded animal".