Ultimate team-mate Boucher shines in 200th
NZ Breakers coach Andrej Lemanis borrowed from some Bill Russell as he paid tribute to veteran Dillon Boucher following his 200th game for the club at Vector Arena on Thursday night.
Boucher produced a fitting reminder of why, even at 36 and in his farewell campaign, he's still such a valued member of the back-to-back Australian NBL champions during a bounce-back 97-76 victory over the Cairns Taipans.
Man-of-the-moment Cedric Jackson may have led the way with another outstanding all-round display - a career-high 32 points off just 13 shots, as well as eight assists - but Boucher also produced his biggest offensive outburst in nearly three seasons.
The original Breaker and three-time Aussie NBL champion weighed in with 10 points, three boards and five assists on a night when he went four-of-four from the field, two-of-two from the line and was 10 out of 10 for effort.
Later Lemanis was reminded of a quote from Boston Celtics legend Bill Russell out of Bill Simmons' hoops bible The Book of Basketball when assessing Boucher's 200 games at the club.
"The concept of the book was finding out why teams win. There's a beautiful quote from Bill Russell, one of the winningest players in the NBA, where he said that a man should not be measured by his statistics, he should be measured by his ability to connect with his team-mates and to win games.
"I don't think there is a better summary than that for Dillon," said Lemanis. "He's selfless in the way he approaches the game. Everyone talks about sacrificing for the good of the group, and if you wanted a poster boy for that Dillon's your guy.
"Every time he comes to me with suggestions, it's never about something for him. It's always about something for somebody else.
"The guy wins. He's got a billion New Zealand NBL championships, he's got three ANBL championships, two with this club... the guy wins and we're lucky to have him."
Boucher conceded that it had been a good night for him and his team - now 9-3 and at the top of the standings - and at this stage of his career he had learned to savour those games.
"Any time you have a performance like that it makes you feel young," said Boucher, still grinning after a night when his achievement was honoured in the appropriate manner.
"After the Sydney game I felt about 40 (to which Lemanis replied: "You are 40, aren't you?"). Tonight I feel about 18. Any time we win it's always good for the soul and good for the body.
"The 200 games have been a mixed bag - some awesome highs and there have also been a lot of lows. Those highs are what keep you going.
"I'm thankful for the club getting me back that I'm able to play out my career here, the place where I started, the place from day one when I first signed the journey was to win a championship.
"We've got two now, but we're not happy with two. We want another one."
Jackson's performance added fuel to speculation that he could be garnering interest from the NBA - though a mid-season callup still seems unlikely.
He was 11-of-13 from the field, two-of-three from deep and seemed able to get to the rim at will against a Taipans defence that had no answer to his quickness. It was yet another MVP-calibre performance from a player delivering them on a regular basis.
But it was also pleasing to see Alex Pledger (13 points, four rebounds) and, towards the end, Tom Abercrombie (nine points, five boards) showing glimpses of getting back to their best and the Breakers comfortably handle the absence of backup centre Will Hudson who was still feeling his head knock from Sydney.
"I was happy with the response all week," said Lemanis of the challenge faced after the defeat in Sydney. "One of the beauties of having an experienced group is the emotional highs and lows of a season don't bother them too much.
"They understand what's important and getting back to work and taking care of what they need to take care of to give themselves a chance to win.
"It was great to see Tom being aggressive at the rim. The outcome doesn't matter, with his ability he's able to influence the game when he plays with that mindset.
"Chief (Pledger) is exactly the same. It's about playing with the right mindset, and if you're confident and trying to make things happen generally good things happen for you."
The Breakers now have five days off before they start preparations for a four-game holiday road swing through Adelaide, Cairns, Wollongong and Townsville. Jackson and Abercrombie will play in the All-Star game in Adelaide on December 22.
- © Fairfax NZ News