Leopards push Breakers all the way in Hamilton
The NZ Breakers are getting an ideal workout from their Chinese rivals as they prepare their quest for a fourth consecutive Australian NBL (ANBL) title.
Dean Vickerman's troops scored a tight 82-81 victory over the Dongguan Leopards in front of 3014 noisy fans at Claudelands Arena in Hamilton tonight - their second in three nights against the same opponents.
They had to survive another prolific haul of buckets from former NBA player Donte Greene, with the US import leading the Leopards with 37 points.
But the Breakers had too much depth for the visitors, with the likes of Reuben Te Rangi, Corey Webster and Darnell Lazare proving their worth off the bench to wear down a useful visiting outfit.
While Daryl Corletto knocked down his first two three-point attempts for the Breakers, Greene's influence was also immediate for the Leopards.
His first-quarter display included a couple of deep jumpers, a stunning drive and dish to a team-mate to score and a block on a fast-breaking Thomas Abercrombie lay-up.
With new head coach Vickerman opting to give all of his starting five of Kerron Johnson, Corletto, Abercrombie, Mika Vukona and Alex Pledger a rest in the opening 10 minutes, the scores were tied 21-all at the end of the first quarter.
The Breakers established a gap in the second quarter as Te Rangi greatly impressed off the bench while imported point guard Johnson began to impose himself with some quick hands on defence, turned into quick feet on offence to get to the rim.
That helped the reigning three-times ANBL champions pull away late to a 44-34 lead at halftime while shooting at a handy 55 per cent from the field.
The Leopards began the third quarter with a feisty defensive approach and rapidly turned missed baskets from the Breakers into points at the other end to reduce the deficit to four.
Veteran Breakers Vukona and Corletto helped them sneak away again but the visitors wouldn't yield and drew within two before the game entered the final quarter with the Breakers up 63-56.
A three-point play from Meng Duo tied the game up at 67-67 with just over five minutes left and Zhang Kai put the Leopards ahead soon after.
An Abercrombie three restored the Breakers' lead and a Pledger block helped keep it before Corletto's fourth trey gave them a little breathing room at 73-69.
Greene made a three to put the Leopards up 79-78 but Corletto replied in kind to edge the Breakers ahead again. He Zhongmian made one free-throw to tie it at 81-81 before Johnson was fouled with 1.5 seconds left and made the second to win it.
The Breakers beat the Leopards 114-93 in New Plymouth on Sunday night. The two sides will play the last game of the three-game series in Auckland on Thursday.
- © Fairfax NZ News