NZ Breakers slump to another defeat at home
BEN STANLEY AT NORTH SHORE EVENTS CENTRE
It might not be time to press the panic button on the Breakers just yet, but it's fair to say one or two fingers started creeping towards it at the North Shore Events Centre tonight.
That might sound like an itchy trigger reaction to the NZ Breakers' thrilling 96-93 loss to the Adelaide 36ers, which sees the defending Australian NBL champions slump to 1-4, and stone cold last in the league.
It isn't though.
Consider this: the Breakers hadn't lost to the 36ers in 15 straight games - extending back to October 2009. It's been longer still since Adelaide claimed a victory in Auckland - that last happened on November 6 2008.
Feel free to toss out your record book now. After a lackluster first half, the Breakers came to life in the second - with the long-range games of forward Ruben Te Rangi, the hosts' standout, and all-round action of point guard Kerron Johnson starring.
Yet in terms of overall physicality, speed and sheer passion, the 36ers dominated the Breakers and emerged deserved winners.
Their league-leading rebounding game flourished in the first half, with the likes of Daniel Johnson and Anthony Petrie making key plays around the hoop.
Point guard Gary Ervin was instrumental for his team, scoring 22 points and directing play expertly.
Breakers coach Dean Vickerman spoke about the team's need to tighten up their zone defence game following last week's loss to Perth - but admitted it will need another re-tweak ahead of Sunday's clash with the Wollogong Hawks in Australia.
"It's a working in progress, and something we've got to get better at," he said.
"You've got to keep trusting it - and get better at it."
With such a tight result, surely there was good stuff there too? Sure - Te Rangi played arguably the best game of his young career, netting a personal best of 22 points and was energetic throughout, while Johnson, after a slowish first half, was at the heart of everything good his side achieve.
And while the Breakers made a stirring second half comeback, it would not be enough.
"To get down 22, and find a way to have a chance to win it is probably the most pleasing part of the game - the fight that we showed," Vickerman said.
"There was enough belief to believe we could win. It came down to a couple of simple things - a massive offensive board from Petrie there - and probably a little bit of lack of execution in the last play for us."
It was a game not short of passion, with Mika Vukona's stoush with former Breaker BJ Anthony obviously the most eye-catching confrontation.
Both were ejected for the stoush, after Anthony reacted angrily to a mid-air shove by Vukona mid-air shove on Daniel Johnson.
There was plenty of storylines to follow heading into the clash; the most noteworthy, of course, being the return of giant American centre Gary Wilkinson.
Wilkinson was with the Breakers when they won their first two titles - and has a cult-like following amongst club faithful. How would he fare on court, after being away from the ANBL for a season?
Not well. Wilkinson, a super scorer during his first spell with the team, struggled offensive with only 7 points, while looking like a man still needing ANBL minutes to admit to the league's physicality.
He wasn't the only Breaker to struggle though. From the opening whistle, Alex Pledger looked off his typically dominant self - as did energizer bunny CJ Bruton.
The 36ers surged to a 30-20 lead after the first quarter, with Adam Gibson netting an impressive 11 points.
The Breakers looked rattled - and that continued in the second stanza with the likes of Luke Schenscher and Johnson working the territory around the net with ease.
It was the third stanza that saw the Breakers roar back into action. Te Rangi took the lead, with his energy seeming to rub off on the likes of Johnson, and Wilkinson, somewhat, after his sleepy start.
Adelaide's scoring touch deserted them in the final quarter, and it was largely Breakers in the exciting ride home.
They claimed their first lead of the game with three minutes to go - but couldn't hold on, with that Petrie rebound - and stout defence from the 36ers keeping them out.
Adelaide 36ers 96 (Gary Ervin 22, Adam Gibson 13, Jarrid Frye 8, Anthony Petrie 15, Adam Gibson 15) NZ Breakers 93 (Ruben Te Rangi 22, Derron Johnson 17 Alex Pledger 16). 1Q: 30-20 HT: 51-37 3Q: 71-66
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