Adelaide 36ers outgun NZ Breakers in Australian NBL clash on North Shore
A brave Breakers fightback came up short as the defending Australian NBL (ANBL) champions went down 87-81 to the Adelaide 36ers at the North Shore Events Centre on Friday night.
Trailing by 17 early in the third quarter, the hosts roared back and early in the final quarter a Corey Webster three tied the scores at 65-65, lifting a sellout crowd of 3951 to their feet.
But a resurgent 36ers side, who shot an impressive 53 per cent in the first half and limited league-leading scorer Webster to 12 points on the night, held their nerve and never surrendered the lead over a tense final five minutes in front of a increasingly vocal crowd.
A second Webster three reduced the margin to four with 25 seconds left, but it was one of only six attempts of 27 from distance the Breakers converted and couldn't prevent the stuttering champions from falling to their third loss in four games and an 11-8 record.
One of the only bright spots for the hosts on a night was the fact they still don't lose fourth place on the ladder to now 10-9 Adelaide, with nine games left in the Breakers regular season.
Breakers coach Dean Vickerman was positive about the fight his team displayed to get back into the contest, but not so much about the 25 points apiece for key 36ers scorers Daniel Johnson and Jerome Randle.
"We found a way to get back in it, but in those tight games there are so many little things that need to go right," Vickerman said.
"We came up with enough extra possessions to give ourselves a chance to win, but there was a big three ball from Daniel Johnson.
"Johnson and Randle were two guys were identified as key scorers, but they still found a way to get it done."
With a double-header looming next week against an Illawarra side the Breakers have suffered two heavy losses to this season, Vickerman said his team needed to be much more consistent across the 40 minutes if they were to prevent a slip out of the playoff spots.
"We've came into the New Year and tried to ramp up the intensity. I thought we had it in patches, but patches is not good enough to beat a good team like that.
"They played well tonight, I give them credit, they made things tough for our shooters to find open looks."
The result meant the home side were unable to celebrate club stalwart Mika Vukona's 350th ANBL appearance with a victory.
The ever-durable forward badly sprained an ankle at training early in the week and only emerged from the tunnel five minutes before tip-off, but showed no ill-effects as he poured in six quick points in the early stages.
But it was Adelaide's long-range shooting big man Johnson who kept his team's nose in front, adding seven points of his own to help them lead 25-23 at the first interval.
The much-talked about fast-break speed of the visitors caught the hosts napping several times, only a miracle Cedric Jackson three from beyond halfway at the buzzer keeping the lead to two going into the second quarter.
Johnson, who torched Melbourne for 31 points in a December 23rd victory, dropped nine more to have 17 at the half, making eight of nine from the field, including both attempts from beyond the arc.
Fleet-footed point-guard Randle, who had 29 against Melbourne, provided solid support with 13, while Brendan Teys had eight valuable points off the bench.
It was not, however, until the closing stages of the half the 36ers were able to really stretch their advantage, a 10-2 run giving them a 53-41 buffer going in for the major break.
New dad Tom Abercrombie had 11 first half points, Jackson and Tai Wesley dropping eight each in a Breakers shooting effort of 43 per cent.
Adelaide remained on top in the opening stages of the third quarter, but this four-time champion Breakers outfit don't lay down easily. As the last interval approached they made their move, with the 36ers superb shooting finally beginning to cool down.
Jackson provided the spark for the fightback with seven quick points, bench centre Alex Pledger knocking down six as they 36ers lead shrunk to four heading into the final quarter.
A deafening cheer rung out across the NSEC when Webster's three shortly after the restart tied the scores for the first time since the opening minutes of the game.
That championship-winning touch down the stretch is still eluding the hosts, though, several missed free-throws and a gutsy Adelaide finish handing the visitors a rare win on New Zealand soil.
Adelaide 36ers 87 (Daniel Johnson 25, Jerome Randle 25, Brendan Teys 9) NZ Breakers 81 (Cedric Jackson 16, Tai Wesley 14, Tom Abercrombie 13, Mika Vukona 13). Q1: 25-23. Q2 53-41. Q3: 65-61