Breakers secure first ANBL championship
The Breakers are the champions of Australia - and the toast of New Zealand.
The New Zealand club last night defeated the Cairns Taipans 71-53 in a brilliantly one-sided deciding game three of the Australian NBL grand finals, and wrote themselves into Kiwi sporting history.
In front of a sell-out crowd of 4200 at a frenzied North Shore Events Centre, the Breakers mixed some fabulous defence with more than enough offence to leave the Taipans in their dust as they cruised to their second convincing home victory of this series.
And didn't they celebrate it at the final buzzer as eight years of toil, disappointment, patient building and a false start or two finally turned into the prized championship.
At the end the players leapt into each other's arms and celebrated one of the special moments in New Zealand sport.
A Kiwi team - made up of nine New Zealanders, two international imports and a lone Aussie - has gone into an Australian league and beaten them in their backyard, in their competition, under their terms.
It does not get any sweeter than this.
The Cairns outfit simply could not handle the lock-down Breakers defence and struggled to put enough points on the board to stay in the race against a Breakers side who spread the scoring load splendidly and eased to a no-sweat victory after halftime.
It was fitting, too, that it was such a team effort on the night of nights for this club.
Perth coach Rob Beveridge had labelled them a one-man team during the semifinal series. Rubbish.
Last night CJ Bruton - making his own slice of history by claiming his fourth title with his third club - led the scoring with 14 points (5/10 FG) that included four three-pointers, two of which were back-to-back fourth-quarter daggers as the Breakers put the issue beyond doubt.
Import Gary Wilkinson added 13 points and six rebounds, while Kirk Penney added 11 points (3/10 FG) and five boards to cancel out his five turnovers.
But the contributions came right down the line-up for the Kiwis.
Mika Vukona was painfully shy of a double-double with nine points and 10 big boards, Alex Pledger had nine points and six rebounds off the bench and Thomas Abercrombie weighed in with seven points, 10 rebounds and four steals, not to mention some of the best defence seen in the league this year.
Paul Henare bowed out in his 250th game in perfect fashion.
The foundation player now has that ring he can take into his retirement, and he played his part with four points, four assists and two steals.
Henare's energy from the off set the tone for his side.
The Breakers made history in so many ways as they lifted aloft the trophy they call 'The Doc' last night - not only securing their first title in their eighth season in the NBL, but making the long-awaited breakthrough for a Kiwi team in an Aussie league.
Including the Warriors, Breakers, one-term Sirens, the three football clubs and a lone water polo season there have been 35 seasons of futility. Not any more.
The wait is finally over and the Breakers can now rightly be lauded as the first New Zealand club to crack the tough ask of crossing the Tasman and beating the Aussies in their own backyard.
But this has been a championship built slowly and steadily since owners Paul and Liz Blackwell took over the club six years ago.
Year by year they've added the pieces to the puzzle, till finally in 2010-11 they had the line-up not only to march through the regular season with the league's best record (22-6) but scrap their way through two tough, gruelling three-game playoff series.
Bruton became just the third player in league history to win titles with three clubs, while coach Andrej Lemanis - who deserves as much credit as anyone for this - is just the fourth person to win championships as both a player and coach, adding to the crown he lifted as a backup guard with the South East Melbourne Magic in 1992.
The Breakers made an electrifying start in front of their vociferous sell-out crowd, coming out with all the aggression to lead 11-2 inside four minutes.
But then the Taipans settled and the home team's shooting, and ball security, fell off. A mere six points in the last 6:25 saw the Kiwis lead just 17-15 at the first intermission.
But with Vukona in to-the-rim mode early in the second period, and Abercrombie converting a three-point play off some excellent Braswell hustle, the Breakers sprung out by 11 (30-19).
Still they couldn't shake these sticky Snakes, and with Dusty Rychart (12 first-half points) keeping them in it with that solid mid-range game, the visitors had reduced the deficit to seven (30-37) by the major break.
The Breakers had played solidly rather than spectacularly through the first 20 minutes, shooting 43 percent from the floor (15/35 FG) and forcing the visitors into 13 turnovers, but never quite able to do enough to make a game-winning break.
However, when they extended their lead to 12 at the end of the third quarter they had one hand on the trophy. By knuckling down and keeping the Taipans to just 15 points in each of the first three periods, the New Zealanders were able to keep chipping away at the lead with their more reliable offensive game.
And then when the Taipans kept missing and Bruton nailed those back-to-back triples in the final quarter, the celebrations could begin. The lead was 21, and the rest was simply academic.
Abercrombie was named finals MVP at the post-game presentations, with the North Shore boy receiving a huge cheer from his home crowd as he stepped on to the podium to receive a deserved award.
Doesn't it sound great? The best team in Australian basketball is the New Zealand Breakers.
NZ Breakers 71 (CJ Bruton 14, Gary Wilkinson 13, Kirk Penney 11), Cairns Taipans 53 (Dusty Rychart 14). 1Q: 17-15; HT: 37-30; 3Q: 57-45.