Mika Vukona powers Breakers to big victory
Mika Vukona had a sore back and an angry head. It was a perfect combination for a basketballer who seems to be at his best when things are hardest for him.
Vukona had given his NZ Breakers a blast prior to their departure for yesterday's Australian NBL game in Adelaide, the Tall Blacks skipper making it clear he was less than impressed with their one-point squeaker on Thursday at home over Wollongong.
But when Vukona calls for action you can be pretty certain he'll be the first one leading the charge. That's his style. He asks nothing of his mates he's not prepared to offer himself.
So yesterday in Adelaide it was no surprise to see Vukona, sore back and all, playing like a man possessed as the Breakers despatched the 36ers 84-66 to secure a seventh straight ANBL victory, and fifth in a row on the road.
The win improved the Breakers' league-best record to 14-3 and continues to keep at bay the equally hard charging Perth Wildats (12-4), who thumped Cairns 86-64 at home.
It was a solid all-round effort by the Breakers who were level at the end of the first two periods but broke the game open with a devastating third quarter run that the 36ers simply had no answer to.
The Kiwi league leaders had five players contribute double-figure scores and all nine used - centre Alex Pledger was a late defection with ankle problems - provided telling contributions. Typical Breakers really.
But three efforts deserve special praise, led by Vukona.
The hard-nosed big man revelled in his role shifting between power forward and centre and his aggression and skill was just too much for Adelaide to handle. He made eight of his 12 shots for a team-high 16 points and added seven rebounds and six assists before fouling out late in the contest. He also played his part keeping star Sixers big man Daniel Johnson to just nine points on one-for-seven shooting.
"Mika was just unbelievable," said Breakers assistant coach Dean Vickerman. "He played with a little bit of a bad back but was outstanding. Often he seems to be able to do that. He focuses well when he's got something else to worry about."
The other two standouts for the Breakers were a little more out of left field.
Spot-up shooting specialist Daryl Corletto has had a quiet season thus far, but was fabulous yesterday as he added 15 points, going six-of-nine from the field and three-for six from deep.
And Leon Henry continued his emergence as a dynamic contributor off the bench, adding 10 points (4/11 FG) and four boards in 16 quality minutes.
It was Corletto and Henry who played the key roles as the Breakers blew the game open in the third quarter, breaking a 38-38 halftime deadlock with 12 unanswered points as they kept the Sixers scoreless for the best part of six minutes.
Corletto had 10 straight at one point and then Henry weighed in with two triples and a thunderous dunk as the Breakers sealed the deal with an 18-2 run en route to a 24-10 quarter.
"We were 21 down here at halftime last time, so we felt in a pretty good position today," said Vickerman. "This group has to be motivated and sometimes their motivation comes from being a few down. We know in a close game we're better than any team in the league in the last two minutes."
Cedric Jackson (11 points, eight boards, six assists three steals) and Tom Abercrombie (11 points and five boards) also provided solid contributions, while Corey Webster, Dillon Boucher and Will Hudson also found ways to help their team.
Pledger was a game-time cryoff with ankle problems, but Vickerman said he should be fine for the next round which will see the Sydney Kings visit the NSEC on Thursday before the Breakers cross the Tasman again for a Saturday night rematch with Wollongong.
NZ Breakers 84 (Mika Vukona 16, Daryl Corletto 15, Cedric Jackson 11, Tom Abercrombie 11, Leon Henry 10), Adelaide 36ers 66 (Anthony Petrie 19, Adam Gibson 10). 1Q: 18-18; HT: 38-38; 3Q: 62-48.
What did you make of the Tall Blacks' World Cup campaign?