Breakers steal victory to continue streak
Somehow the streak lives on.
At five points down with a minute and a-half remaining at the NSEC last night it did not look pretty for the Australian NBL-leading Breakers as the Cairns Taipans had them wedged somewhere between a rock and a hard place.
But there is no denying the spirit and the skill of the league's best player, nor the drive and determination of its most fierce competitor. So behind Cedric Jackson and Mika Vukona the Breakers forged a mighty comeback over that final 90 seconds to turn a 72-77 deficit into an 80-77 victory that had the sellout crowd on its collective feet.
That made it 14 wins on the trot for the Breakers and leaves them just one win (or one Perth defeat) from sealing their third straight minor premiership as they shoot for a title hat-trick.
The Breakers did it without injured big man Will Hudson who won't return until the final game of the regular season with his knee troubles. They also did it with veteran guard CJ Bruton only able to go six minutes before he had to head home early with an inner ear infection that left him debilitated.
They also did it with their makeshift frontline battling foul trouble all night and with a bad case of the shooting wobbles (38 percent from the field for the game, a lousy two-of-13 from deep).
Credit also to the Snakes who led for nearly 30 of the 40 minutes of this contest. Behind some sharp shooting from Cameron Gliddon (15 points, four rebounds, four assists) and Jamar Wilson (15 points, five boards) they pushed the back-to-back champs to the brink and very nearly had their second straight upset defeat over a top-two team.
The victory continues the Breakers' recent grip over the Taipans. They have now won 13 of their last 17 against the Queenslanders who have not been successful in New Zealand since October of 2008.
It takes the Kiwi club to 22-3 for the season and drops the Taipans to 9-15 as they now face a virtual sudden-death run for the remainder of the campaign if they're to sneak into the top four.
The Breakers were paced by a career-high 20-points and six rebounds by Alex Pledger in his 100th game for the club. He went 10-of-11 from the free-throw line and five of eight from the field in a timely scoring outburst.
But it was the efforts of Jackson and Vukona down the stretch that won the game as they picked up steals, boards and buckets right when they were most needed.
Jackson had just a single free-throw at the half but finished with 17 points (7/15 FG), nine rebounds, seven assists and six steals in an MVP-calibre performance.
Vukona's numbers weren't quite as startling - 15 points (6/13 FG), eight boards and three steals - but his energy and commitment were equally as vital when the game went on the line.
Tom Abercrombie made nine of his 10 free-throws to make up for a horror shooting night (1/11 FG), while Daryl Corletto added eight points as the Breakers somehow wriggled out of the tightest of spots with what coach Andrej Lemanis termed "effort and guts".
"It was one of those nights where obviously we didn't shoot it well and surprisingly we got outrebounded (39-37). That doesn't happen to us very much," added Lemanis.
"Yet we still found a way to win which was pleasing. The ability to get up the floor and change some tempo with our defence helped, and then to just stick with it and stick with it and believe if we stayed with it long enough we could eventually turn the tide.
"We turned them over 19 times which was a big part of it and obviously Cedric and Mika made some fantastic plays, particularly in that fourth quarter. We kept them to four points in the last five minutes of that fourth quarter which was big too."
Bruton's illness, which came on late in the week, and the foul trouble had really stretched the team's resources, as had a pretty fair Taipans effort.
"To get tested like that, to be behind for most of the night, to be missing layups, missing threes and still find a way to win is very, very pleasing," added Lemanis..
It had been a scratchy old first couple of quarters by the Breakers as they struggled with a few phantom calls and their own inertia at the offensive end en route to a 36-39 halftime deficit.
The hosts had started brightly enough, working into a 16-9 lead deep into the opening quarter. But an 11-1 run by the Taipans saw them eke out a 20-17 lead by the first break, and hold that three-point advantage at the end of second quarter where the Breakers made just five field goals.
With Abercrombie struggling with his shot and Jackson also failing to land a field goal, the fluency of the week earlier was badly missing as the Taipans sensed a second straight upset in the making.
Jackson came alive in the third period as he poured in 12 points and four steals to key a step up in scoring by the Breakers, but it seemed the Queenslanders were able to match their every move as they held firm to lead by four (67-63) heading into the final stanza.
Then it all got very interesting. The Snakes made the first decisive move, but it was the Breakers who finished the deal, and kept that streak alive, ahead of Sunday's trip to the Melbourne Tigers.
NZ Breakers 80 (Alex Pledger 20, Cedric Jackson 17, Mika Vukona 15, Tom Abercrombie 11), Cairns Taipans 77 (Cameron Gliddon 15, Jamar Wilson 15, Alex Loughton 12). 1Q: 17-20; HT: 36-39; 3Q: 63-67.