Breakers romp past inept Adelaide 36ers
It was Mika Vukona's night, but his mates were more than happy to join in the celebrations as the New Zealand Breakers show rolled on at Vector Arena.
Vukona reckoned beforehand he didn't much care for the significance of his 200th Australian NBL game for the Auckland-based club. It was all about getting the win, said the warrior power forward, and taking another stride towards that all important top spot at the end of the regular season.
Well, his team obliged splendidly as they shook off a 13-day stretch between games and put the serious hurt on an Adelaide 36ers side that was woefully outmatched, and outplayed to the tune of 104-79.
The victory marked the night's two major achievements in fitting fashion, as Vukona not only brought up the double-ton but coach Andrej Lemanis made it 250 games as head coach - becoming just the fifth in league history to achieve the feat at one organisation.
The victory also extends two significant streaks for the back-to-back league champions whose record now stands at an imposing 21-3 with just four regular season games remaining.
It improves their NBL winning run to 13 on the bounce, and is their 15th straight over the 36ers in a streak that stretches all the way back to round three of the 2009-10 season. It also improves their home record to 11-1.
The 36ers, on the other hand, now have no hope of an unlikely surge into the playoffs as their record drops to 8-17. A team that promised so much at season's start are now history.
Vukona, as he does, led from the front with 11 points (5/7 FG), five boards and seven assists, but he had all sorts of help on a night when six Breakers hit double-figures and the champs broke 100 for the first time this campaign. Their total was also the highest in regulation in the league this season.
Ced Jackson led the way with a polished 18 points (7/13 FG), four boards, two assists and two steals, while Tom Abercrombie showed real signs of an elevation in his game as he added a slick 16 points on seven-of-12 shooting to go with four rebounds.
But they all had a say. CJ Bruton went a perfect four-of-four from the floor and three-for-three from deep for his 11 points, Daryl Corletto missed just three shots in his 15-point haul and Corey Webster added 11 points in 16 minutes off the bench.
Even big Alex Pledger, who didn't have the best of nights, still had nine points and a game-high 10 boards.
The Breakers shot a red-hot 62 percent from the floor and 48 from deep and were never really pushed in a romp that was over early in the third quarter. It was impressive stuff from a side with its eye very much on the ball as they close in on a title threepeat.
"The second quarter (where the 36ers outscored the Breakers 31-23) was too much. I thought our defence went in and out," said Lemanis afterwards.
"But apart from that stretch I was pretty pleased with how we played, particularly coming off a two-week break. You're always concerned about the rust that's in the system and the rhythm, and that showed a little bit in the first half.
"But we were able to play our way out if it. We were very efficient offensively - to score at 62 percent from the field, 71 from two-point range and 48 from threes was good for us.
"There were a lot of good signs just to work our way back into it. We won the rebounding again. So from that point of view coming off a two-week break it was pretty pleasing."
The Breakers led 51-46 at halftime, but would probably have been kicking themselves that their advantage wasn't a lot more momentous.
The hosts had things mostly their own way in the opening period, shooting at a red-hot clip (11/19 FG) as they streaked to a 28-15 lead on the back of strong early showings from Corletto and Vukona.
But just when the game looked to be slipping out of the visitors' grasp, Boomers guard Adam Gibson stroked a trio of triples among 11 straight points as the 36ers went on a 13-3 run to cut the deficit to a more manageable five by the major break.
Clearly Lemanis said something pretty telling over the halftime break, as his team came out in the third period and put the game on ice with a 30-12 quarter, fuelled by blistering starts from Jackson and Abercrombie whose series of spectacular plays culminated in an elbows-on-the-rim alley-oop from the point guard to the high-flying forward.
From there it was all about entertaining the sellout crowd of 8500 to the end. Judging by the smiles on the faces afterwards, the Breakers achieved even that.
NZ Breakers 104 (Cedric Jackson 18, Tom Abercrombie 16, Daryl Corletto 15, Mika Vukona 11, CJ Bruton 11, Corey Webster 11), Adelaide 36ers 79 (Anthony Petrie 16, Adam Gibson 15, Stephen Weigh 15, Daniel Johnson 15). 1Q: 28-15; HT: 51-46; 3Q: 81-58.