NZ Breakers' home streak ends as Ennis shines
James Ennis isn't quite ready for the NBA yet, but he's not far off it if his efforts at the NSEC tonight were anything to go by.
The Perth Wildcats star swingman led his side to a thrilling 96-89 defeat of the NZ Breakers that was notable on any number of fronts.
In front of a slightly disappointing crowd of 3500, Ennis and his Cats inflicted the first home defeat on the three-peat Australian NBL champions in a year, snapping a 16-game winning streak in Auckland.
It was also the Breakers' third straight defeat this season - the first time they've suffered such an ignominy since January of 2010 as they slump to 1-3 and into an early hole in their quest for an historic title four-peat.
Ennis - on secondment in Perth from the Miami Heat where he was a second-round draft pick - was simply superb. He notched a game-high 29 points (8/16 FG, 12/14 FT), via an impressive array of post-ups and poster dunks and was a cut above anyone else on court. He also had six boards, two assists and a pair of steals in a virtuoso display.
He had his help, with fellow import Jermaine Beal finally finding his shot to add 19 points (8/17 FG) and Jesse Wagstaff drilling four of his seven three-pointers to add 17 points for a Cats side that started slowly, but controlled this contest from the late stages of the second quarter.
"The dangerous part of playing with Ennis is just standing and watching and that's when we break down at times because he is that good and sometimes you just give him the ball and forget to continue executing the play," noted Perth guard Damian Martin, who had seven points, six rebounds, four assists and three steals in a typically busy display.
"He is a freak. He can shoot the three-ball, he's obviously athletic and now he's adding a mid-range game and getting some moves off the dribble he's very special."
The Breakers were playing catchup throughout the second half and could find no way to bridge the deficit on a sharp Cats outfit that shot the ball well (48 percent from the floor, 58 from deep) and forced the champs into 12 turnovers.
Import point guard Kerron Johnson led the Breakers with 17 points on six-of-eight shooting, with five assists and three boards, while Alex Pledger (16 points, nine rebounds and six turnovers), Tom Abercrombie (14 points) and Mika Vukona (13 points, six rebounds) all played their parts in a high-quality encounter.
The refs continued to call it ridiculously tight (there were 49 fouls called, and 58 free-throw attempts), but it didn't stop an intense, up-tempo and entertaining game of hoops breaking out.
The Breakers had powered out to a 26-17 first-quarter lead on the back of five quick points from Daryl Corletto and a more measured eight from Pledger; but a 16-8 run by the Cats over the first half of the second period all but erased that advantage.
The visitors edged out by five late in the second term as Wagstaff buried two wide open triples, but a timely late three-pointer from CJ Bruton sent the Breakers into the sheds down just a bucket (45-47).
Abercrombie's three quick fouls saw him play just 4:48 through the first half; and the dangerous Ennis cashed in with 12 points to pace the visitors. Pledger (10 points) and Bruton (nine) led a balanced home effort.
It looked ominous when the Wildcats continued to hit their shots in the third period to stretch their lead out by 10 inside the final three minutes, but three straight buckets by an inspired Pledger closed the gap to a manageable five heading into the final term.
But it was the Cats who held their poise over the final term, extending out by eight early, and never allowing their hosts a look at a comeback as they scrambled hard late.
Coach Dean Vickerman lamented a lack of consistent energy from his side. "We were patchy - and that's where we are right now. We're playing some really good basketball in patches, then we're letting ourselves down in short bursts."
Next up is Adelaide at home next Thursday, with must-win written all over it.
Perth Wildcats 96 (James Ennis 29, Jermaine Beal 19, Jesse Wagstaff 17, Shawn Redhage 12) NZ Breakers 89 (Kerron Johnson 17, Alex Pledger 16, Tom Abercrombie 14, Mika Vukona 13, CJ Bruton 11). 1Q: 26-17; HT: 45-47; 3Q: 67-72
- © Fairfax NZ News