Breakers clamp down on defence in Cairns
The NZ Breakers produced a 40-minute defensive masterclass to end 2012 firmly ensconced at the top of the Australian National Basketball League.
The two-time defending champions beat the Cairns Taipans 66-61 in Cairns last night to improve their season record to 11-3 and give them a two-win buffer over the Perth Wildcats atop the standings.
They achieved their second away win in three days by strangling the life out of the Snakes’ offence, almost restricting the hosts to their lowest total in their ANBL history and ensuring imported guard Jamar Wilson was the only Cairns player to score in double figures (23) as the hosts made just 21 shots from the field.
Not that the Breakers fared a lot better – their final tally was one of their lowest for the franchise – but they never looked like losing.
The visitors immediately set the tone for a first 20 minutes of swarming defence that would have thrilled its overseer, assistant coach Dean Vickerman.
They held the Taipans to their second-lowest points tally for a quarter in the club’s history by establishing an 16-8 advantage at the first break and while Cairns did draw level at 19-all midway through the second period, the Breakers drew away near the end of the half with import point guard Cedric Jackson prominent through his ball-handling and shooting to give his side a 35-24 lead at the major break.
The champions constantly pressed the Taipans and forced a host of turnovers, often capitalising – 18 of their points in the first 20 minutes and 28 in the game came from Taipans’ errors.
They also profited from a size advantage in the paint through centre Alex Pledger, and the hustle of Mika Vukona, Dillon Boucher and Will Hudson.
When veteran guard Aaron Grabau netted a three for Cairns midway through the third quarter the hosts had reduced the deficit to 41-34, with Wilson prominent.
But a timeout from coach Andrej Lemanis settled the Breakers and they rarely let the Taipans get within double-digits in the remainder of the match until garbage-time points made the score look closer than the battle was .
The Taipans were left to rue an embarrassingly abysmal free-throw shooting performance – they made just eight of 17 in the first half and miraculously got worse in the second spell, ending the night with a 42 per cent mark on 15 of 36 shots from the charity stripe.
The Breakers weren’t helping with their contribution from free-throws either, as their 11/23 (48 per cent) effort was likely part of the worst free-throw shooting night in the league’s long existence.
Among the scarcity of points, there was another worryingly quiet offensive night from 2010/11 finals MVP Thomas Abercrombie.
While remaining a lock-down defender, the Tall Blacks swingman who has struggled to shrug off lingering concerns from an ankle injury suffered in last year’s finals, had five points on 1/6 shooting in almost 23 minutes.
Jackson led the Breakers scoring with 17, while Hudson had 12 and CJ Bruton 10.
But it was a night when defence ruled, and no side in the league do that better than the champs when fully focused.
NZ Breakers 66 (Cedric Jackson 17, Will Hudson 12, CJ Bruton 10) Cairns Taipans 61 (Jamar Wilson 23) at Cairns Convention Centre.