Breakers come up short against Sydney
The Breakers, more than anyone, should understand the power of the point guard in this Australian NBL. They do have the supposed best in the business in the form of Cedric Jackson.
But on Saturday night out at Sydney's Olympic precinct, the league-leading Kiwis found the latest instalment of the NBL's Point Guard Idol serving up a shock result.
Instead of Jackson, fresh off his historic triple-double against the Tigers, wooing fans with his dazzling talent, this week it was Sydney Kings' American point guard Corin Henry who took his turn in the spotlight.
Henry is the smallest guard in this league, listed at a generous 1.80m.
But he was towering for the Kings as they thumped the Breakers 75-62 to end a seven-game losing skid against the Kiwi club.
Henry finished a spectacular match with 29 points on 11-of-21 shooting and added five rebounds and three assists. He went a slick five-of-nine from trifecta country and the Breakers had no answer to his elusiveness with ball in hand.
Afterwards Breakers assistant coach Dean Vickerman admitted it had been a performance the league's back-to-back champions had not seen coming.
"We certainly respect him. But we allowed him to go against our scout a little bit early in the game, and he got a rhythm there. The three-ball off the middle on-ball screen we just didn't defend it quite to our scout," said Vickerman.
"He was obviously feeling pretty good when he started banking them off the board as well."
Henry's virtuoso display was way too much for the Breakers to handle as they shot an abysmal 34 per cent from the floor, against the Kings' more respectable 46.
The visitors were playing catchup all night after a slow start and by the fourth quarter found themselves in a 21-point haul with just a couple of minutes remaining.
The Breakers got minimal production out of their starters - none broke double-figures on an abysmal shooting night for the front-liners - and relied on big efforts off the bench from CJ Bruton (18 points, 5/9 FG, 4/7 3PT) and Corey Webster (11 points, 5/8 FG) to keep them in touch through the first three periods. An early concussion to backup big Will Hudson did not help matters either.
Vickerman said it was a mystery why the team came out so flat.
"We tried to do the right thing with our travel," he said. "They had us staying in the city and we moved out to Homebush so we didn't have extra travel time. The club did a great job in allowing us to do that.
"But the first five minutes of every quarter hurt. I don't think we had a five minutes where we scored over four points. We really struggled to get an offensive rhythm at the start of quarters."
With Ben Madgen adding 13 points for the Kings even with his patched up shoulder, and veteran centre Ian Crosswhite going for 12 points and 11 rebounds, the Kings seemingly had an answer to every Breakers run.
"We were trying to change our defences and create offence out of our defence, and we rotated people much as we could to keep that energy on the floor," added Vickerman.
"But we were just never able to get over the hump, never able to make back-to-back threes, and just find a scoring run that could get us back in the game. Some credit needs go to them, but you've got to take advantage and make shots when we're making those runs."
Crosswhite's complete dominance over an ineffective Alex Pledger (4pts, 6reb, 2/8 FG) at centre told the story of the night, as much as Henry's surprise out-dueling of a quiet Jackson (nine points on two-of-nine shooting).
"He's a physical body, probably one of the best screeners in the league," said Vickerman of the Kings centre.
"He did a good job of freeing up their guards, and we had our troubles just fighting through his screens.
"He does a great job, and he made some mid-range and long-range jumpers that were kind of daggers as well. He really crashed the boards and had a really good game."
As the Breakers found, it's hard to be competitive when you're being outplayed at every position on the floor.
The 8-3 Kiwis now return home to host the Cairns Taipans on Thursday knowing that Perth (7-3), Wollongong (7-3) and now the Kings are all in hot pursuit.
Sydney Kings 75 (Corin Henry 29, Ben Madgen 13, Ian Crosswhite 12), NZ Breakers 62 (CJ Bruton 18, Corey Webster 11). 1Q: 24-11; HT: 39-31; 3Q: 53-48.
- Fairfax Media
What did you make of the Tall Blacks' World Cup campaign?