Abercrombie taking steps in 'right direction'
Breakers swingman Tom Abercrombie has credited a mindset shift with helping to elevate his game back to something resembling his high-flying best.
Abercrombie produced a breakout performance in Friday night's Australian NBL victory over the Melbourne Tigers at Hisense Arena, netting a team-high 20 points as the Auckland club cruised to a 75-64 road win that improves their record to 3-1 for the new season.
Afterwards the athletic Tall Black, who went six-of-12 from the field and added five rebounds, said a renewed mental approach to his ankle problems had helped him lift his performance to season-best levels.
Abercrombie had off-season ankle surgery to remove bone chips from the injury incurred in last season's semifinal decider against the Townsville Crocs, and that meant he came into the new campaign with almost no preparation to speak of.
Naturally, he's started slowly as he's come to terms with the restrictions caused by the still-healing ankle and his lack of confidence to push off on it.
He had nine points in the season opener against Perth, seven against Adelaide and 15 last week against Townsville. But Friday was the first time we've seen Abercrombie pulling up for that sweet jumper of his with real confidence, calling it "another step in the right direction".
Asked if he felt he was moving as well as he had since the injury, Abercrombie was at first hesitant, before seeming to open up on the battle he's gone through.
"It's a tricky one," he said. "A lot of it is I'm learning to play with it now. It's not 100 percent, it's not going to be 100 percent for a little while, but I'm learning how to get my rhythm back in the game.
"Most of it is just playing time, and for me getting as much as I can at the moment is great. It's getting me back in the groove and this was probably the best I've felt all season."
The Breakers needed Abercrombie's shooting legs - he knocked down three of his five attempts from deep - and the all-round magic of point guard Cedric Jackson to kick away from a Melbourne Tigers outfit who were their own worst enemies.
The Tigers never got to grips with the Breakers' pressure defence - they coughed up 21 turnovers and shot a miserable 36 percent from the floor - and not even a standout game from big import Seth Scott (25 points and 10 boards) could get them back into a game they trailed by as many as 17 in the second quarter.
Former Breaker Kevin Braswell had a shocker for his new club, mustering just one point on 0-for-9 shooting in a performance that is likely to put an unwelcome spotlight on the 33-year-old.
"We knew we had to come out and match their intensity," added Abercrombie. "The thing about winning on the road is it's not always pretty and you have to do the dirty work sometimes. We were able to grind it out and do what we needed to do and once again our defence was solid for most of the game."
Abercrombie understands the Breakers remain a "work in progress", especially at the offensive end, but he sees plenty of upside as they search for some elusive fluency.
"We have a lot of room for improvement," said the Kiwi NBA hopeful. "It's still early days in the season but we've got to 3-1 and still haven't played anywhere near our best basketball. It's encouraging we've got that room to improve.
"I'm sure we'll get there. We've got better every game and we'll continue to get better. Our rhythm and poise at the offensive end will just keep improving, and as long as we keep getting wins that's the main thing."
Abercrombie also had high praise for another stat-stuffing night from the mercurial Jackson who dominated the point guard matchup with Braswell.
"He does everything for us. In the first half the big guys had their hands full when they had some big bodies crashing the boards and to have guards like Ced coming in to clean up those rebounds is important.
"At the offensive end everyone knows how much he creates for his team-mates. He's pretty crucial for us, and he was very solid [in this game]."
Alex Pledger shook off his ankle problems to post a promising seven points, nine boards and four blocks, Mika Vukona had a quiet eight points and six rebounds while the only real concern was an oh-fer night from CJ Bruton, who continues his scratchy early-season form.
The Breakers host Sydney next up at the NSEC on Friday night, with the Kings buoyed by a big road win at Townsville.
- © Fairfax NZ News