NZ Breakers back on song against Crocodiles
You couldn't say it was pretty, nor could you say the NZ Breakers looked like they've finally cracked a winning formula for the season.
But you could say this: when the game clock finally ran out in the Breakers' 81-74 defeat of the Townsville Crocodiles in the Australian NBL tonight, you could hear a collective sigh of relief around North Shore Events Centre.
The victory was the Breakers first at home in nearly six weeks, and featured a vastly improved defensive effort from the defending champions, who led from the opening whistle.
Swingman Tom Abercrombie, who ended with 24 points, was a fulcrum for the Breakers throughout.
The Tall Black, who became the fourth Breaker to go past 1600 points, showed courage in defence, taking a knock to the face late on.
A key steal by Abercrombie with just a minute to go, and a 3-point lead on the line, was arguably the game's key moment, while a clutch three-pointer with 26 seconds left was the Breakers late dagger.
Breakers coach Dean Vickerman was pleased with the improvements his side made last night, compared to other tight ones the defending champions have dropped.
"It was pleasing we made some shots down the stretch [and] made out free throws," he said.
"We stayed aggressive and didn't turn the ball over in our last few possessions, which was something we needed to improve on."
Big forward Mika Vukona had 12 rebounds, with some key offensive rebounds, while the Breakers work off the bench with Reuben Te Rangi and Gary Wilkinson was particularly effective.
Vickerman singled out Wilkinson for special praise, with the the giant American import battling with back tightness throughout the match.
"I thought that was one of his best games for us so far," he said.
"He'd been restriced all week in practice, so really pleasing that he came out and had a good performance tonight."
The long-range shooting was good from the Breakers too, with 11 from 24 collectively from the three-point line. Abercrombie (5 from 8) and veteran guard Daryl Corletto (3 from 6) stood out.
The last time the two sides met, a fortnight ago in Townsville, former Saint Louis college star Brian Conklin led the Crocodiles to a rout of the Breakers. Conklin piled on 33 points, as the Queensland side handed the defending champions a 91-78 loss; their biggest of the season so far.
Vickerman made plenty of noise during the week about the need for his side to wrap up Conklin. His troops responded, with Conklin scoring just 12.
Historically, match-ups between the two sides are pretty tight - with the Breakers holding a 21-17 edge overall.
The opening quarter was a torrid affair, with seven fouls racked up by both sides with the first five minutes.
While Vukona seemed to be off his stride early, missing two easy lay-ups late in the first stanza, Corletto and Abercrombie were in fine form early.
Both drained three-pointers in the final minute of the quarter to help lay a strong foundation for the Breakers to build from.
The second quarter continued with more trench warfare.
The Breakers gained the edge over their opponents in key turnovers 8 to 4, though weren't as effective in the paint as the Crocodiles, nailing 14 points to Townsville's 20.
Abercrombie opened the third quarter with a third three-pointer, and it would be long range shots from Wilkinson and Corey Webster that would continue to keep the Breakers clear of their opponents.
Conklin and Blanchfield nailed three-pointers to open the final quarter, but the Breakers were able to keep their noses just ahead, with Alex Pledger making a late block to seal the result.
NZ Breakers 81 (Tom Abercrombie 24, Daryl Coreltto 16, Gary Wilkinson 12) 81 Townsville Crocodiles 74 (Josh Pace 14, Todd Blanchfield 14, Brian Conklin 12) 74. 1Q: 22-14 HT: 43-36 3Q: 63-55