Vukona fires as Breakers get back-to-back wins
Call it heart. Call it soul. Whatever you call what happened at the North Shore Events Centre tonight, just make sure you remember one name: Mika Vukona.
The power forward was colossal for the NZ Breakers in their 84-74 victory over the Melbourne Tigers in Auckland, notching a first-half double-double and appearing at the beating heart of all good his team did while on the court.
Vukona's double-double featured 14 points and 17 rebounds - equally the most rebounds in his career - while the Tall Black came within two assist of a rare triple-double for the defending champions.
Breakers coach Dean Vickerman's was hugely impressed with Vukona's effort, arguably the team's best individual performance in a match so far this season.
"It was just an absolutely dominant performance from him tonight," Vickerman said.
"He just wanted every rebound. That was probably the most minutes we've played him, and the least fouls he's had.
"There was a lot of unbelievable things he did tonight."
The double-double, which included 12 first half rebounds, is Vukona's second in three weeks for the Breakers, helping his team to their second straight win for the first time this season.
Overall, it was another improved display from the defending champions, who struggled with tighter fouling rules early in the season but seem to have finally found their stride.
Veteran CJ Bruton was hard-working throughout, while Reuben Te Rangi showed why his stock continues to grow at the Breakers with yet another mature effort under both baskets.
The Breakers ability to contain dangerous shooting guard Chris Goulding would be key if the hosts wanted to record the victory, and while the Australian managed 23 points, Vickerman will be happy with his side's job keeping him out of the game.
Along with Goulding, Scott Morrison was in fine form for the visitors, notching his own double-double with 21 points and 14 rebounds.
However, Tigers coach Chris Anstey conceded the Breakers overall "fluency" was the difference between the two sides.
"Our intent to do the right thing was better today, but our execution [and] decision-making has let us down," he said.
"[The Breakers] were a team that were more fluent in what they wanted to get done, and knew where their shots were coming from down the stretch."
The last time the two sides met in Auckland, the Breakers dished out a 30-point trashing to Melbourne, with Tom Abercrombie and Corey Webster the main destroyers for the hosts late last season.
But from the get-go, there was no chance of a repeat of that sort of blow-out last night by the defending champions.
Vukona set the tone for the game with a rebound in opening seconds, though it was poor passing that was the biggest feature of the Breakers opening salvoes in the match.
Breakers point guard Kerron Johnson, who came into the game under an injury cloud due to an shoulder knock he took last week, looked largely out of sorts with his passing game early on.
While the Breakers looked effective from long range, it was the Tigers making most of the play early - with Goulding and Mark Worthington proving the hardest to handle for the hosts.
The second quarter started tight, but soon it was Vukona providing the difference; be it from the free throw line or claiming defensive rebounds.
The Breakers were able to engineer an 8-point swing, and were able to keep up the momentum into the third period.
Johnson started to get into his work more, and while his shooting radar was off from the field and free-throw line, the American import looked more energetic around the court.
Centre Gary Wilkinson nailed a three-pointer in another relatively quiet night for the giant American import.
Goulding continued to dominant with the ball in hand, but it would be Te Rangi who would make the final statement of the quarter: a three-pointer on the buzzer.
The Breakers were able to pull away in the final quarter with Corey Webster looking energetic, and Johnson regaining more on-court confidence.
NZ Breakers 84 (Mika Vukona 14, Tom Abercrombie 14, Kerron Johnson 13) 84 Melbourne Tigers 74 (Chris Goulding 23, Scott Morrison 21, Mark Worthington 11) 74 1Q: 21-26 HT: 41-38 3Q: 60-58