Breakers stretch winning run to six
It's a good team that can win ugly, and a bloody good one that can do it over and over again.
That's been the story of the NZ Breakers' last month or so as they continue to win - six in a row now - and continue to do so with more than a degree of discomfort.
Last night it was their bogey team, the Wollongong Hawks, as the Breakers brought their Australian NBL show back home for the first time in a month.
At a sold-out NSEC the Kiwi league leaders muddled their way through much of a pretty stirring contest, but still found a way to win at the end, when it really counted. Their 72-71 victory takes them to a league-best 14-3 for the season, and improves their home record to a stellar 7-1.
The gritty Hawks, who lost to the Breakers at home by a deuce earlier in the month, deserve a huge amount of credit for a gutsy display just days after losing their starting backcourt for the season to serious knee injuries. Undermanned, they played the Breakers tough, as they usually do, and but for the bounce of the ball at the end could have stolen a famous win.
The Breakers looked tired after a month on the road and a 36 percent shooting night reflected that. But as they have done time and again over the last three seasons, they found a way to win even when things weren't going their way. A 40-32 rebounding advantage helped, as did 14 turnovers forced, against just six conceded.
The last few minutes of an exciting, if not high-quality, contest provided the capacity crowd with plenty of anxious moments.
The Breakers had looked safe when they scooted out by five with two minutes left, but two big buckets from the Hawks' Larry Davidson got them back within one.
A timely Alex Pledger tap-in made it 71-68 with 1:20 remaining, and from there it came down to free-throws, with Hawks star Adris Deleon unable to cap a brilliant night, and sent the game into OT, when he made just one of two with three seconds on the clock.
Tom Abercrombie continued his resurgence to lead the Breakers with 15 points (6/14 FG, 3/4 3PT), four boards and three assists. He's back moving pretty damn close to his pre-ankle injury best.
Big Pledger also had an influential night with 12 points, eight boards (seven at the offensive end) and two blocks, while an off-colour Cedric Jackson went just four-of-15 from the floor but still tallied 10 points, six rebounds, six assists and four steals.
Corey Webster also added seven points off the bench in as many minutes, while Leon Henry again provided a high-energy contribution in limited time.
"We're finding ways to win and that's what good teams do," said veteran Dillon Boucher after adding four points and six boards off the bench. "We weren't pretty for a lot of the game but we ended up doing enough to be on top at the end.
"The good teams I've been on are teams that find ways to win no matter what's against you, whether it's injuries, whether it's bad shooting, whatever. We're finding a way to win. That's the positive we'll take out of this game."
Deleon was brilliant for the Hawks, making 13 of 24 shots for 34 points as he poured in the ANBL's highest score for the season. He added four boards, six assists and a pair of steals just for good measure.
Oscar Forman chimed in with a dozen points for Wollongong, but just one after the break, and rookie Auryn Macmillan added 11 off the bench.
Hawks coach Gordie McLeod though couldn't hide his disappointment after his team had fought so valiantly just days after losing Rhys Martin and import Lance Hurdle for the season.
"It's just so disappointing when you get so close but can't get over the line," he said. "We've only got ourselves to blame. In this league one or two mistakes or breakdowns can cost you dearly, and obviously 20 offensive rebounds is going to hurt you dearly.
"That amount of possession is going to kill you. It was a fantastic effort but in the end it was all for nothing if you can't finish it off."
The Breakers played the first half as though they were fatigued or over-confident - or possibly a little bit of both.
On the back of that tough - and perfect - four-game road haul over the holiday period the Breakers struggled to get out of second gedar and the under-manned Hawks looked much the sharper outfit.
The Breakers shot just 32 percent through the first two quarters, while their opponents rattled along at a much more respectable 50 percent clip to take a deserved 37-30 lead into the locker room.
It was a little better in the third quarter as the Breakers stepped up their defence out of the break, winning the period 23-16 to head into the final stanza with the scores locked at 53-53.
From there it was tight and tense and tough till the end. The Breakers' kind of game.
NZ Breakers 72 (Tom Abercrombie 15, Alex Pledger 12, Cedric Jackson 10) Wollongong Hawks 71 (Adris Deleon 34, Oscar Forman 12, Auryn MacMillan 11) at North Shore Events Centre.