NZ Breakers' comeback in Perth falls just short
The Breakers crashed to their seventh defeat of the Australian NBL season but pushed runaway league leaders the Wildcats to the limit at Perth Arena on Friday night.
The Breakers (4-7) could not quite make the big plays down the stretch to complete what would have been an impressive comeback from an 18-point deficit early on and a 16-point one late in the third period.
The Auckland club had their chances in a frantic finale, closing to within two points inside the final five minutes and to within a single point with less than two minutes remaining. But the Wildcats hung on for a rather lucky 95-91 victory that improved their league-best record to 11-1 and their home mark to an impressive 7-0.
It was the Wildcats' 20th victory in their last 21 games at their new inner-city arena, but they needed some luck to go their way to put away the Breakers in the tightest of finishes.
James Ennis' scrambled, banked trifecta from a metre and a half outside the three-point line with just six seconds left was particularly fortunate, as it sealed the victory for the home side.
The Breakers also had most of the big calls go against them down the stretch, though were always up against it as they played the dangerous game of catchup the entire night.
Ennis finished with a game-high 31 points (10/16 FG, 3/6 3PT) and five rebounds, while fellow import Jermaine Beal torched the Breakers with eight three-pointers among his 30 points (9/18 FG, 8/16 3PT).
In the end it was this combined 61 points from the American pair that sunk the Breakers who were guilty of leaving them too open from too many handy positions. Beal, especially, saw way too mkch daylight on the three-point arc.
But you had to love the pluck of the Breakers, who will take a lot from what was probably their best offensive display of the season.
Import big man Gary Wilkinson took a major step back to top form with a team-high 19 points (5/11 FG) and eight rebounds, while power forward Mika Vukona had another strong outing, finishing with 17 points (8/10 FG) and six boards before fouling out late.
Daryl Corletto made a couple of big threes late to finish with a valuable 14 points (5/9 FG, 4/5 3PT) for the Breakers, while Tom Abercrombie (11 points) and Kerron Johnson (10 points, five assists) were the other chief contributors as they saw a two-game winning streak snapped.
The Breakers did some good things, particularly at the offensive end where they shot the ball at a heady 53 percent clip. But 12 offensive boards given up to those aggressive Cats was too high a number, as was the 12 three-pointers the home team dropped.
The Breakers had done well to drag a deficit that climbed as high as 18 points early in the second term back to just five points (45-50) at the major break.
The Cats had been red-hot from the floor through the early going (33-21 after the first quarter), but with the in-from Vukona sparking the Breakers - he was a perfect five-for-five for 11 first-half points - the visitors managed to work their way back into the contest over the second stanza.
Still, Breakers coach Dean Vickerman would not have been happy with the ease with which Perth imports Beal (19 points) and Ennis (12 points) found themselves free through the first half, and the gimme buckets big Matt Knight was able to pick up (11 points on four-of-five shooting).
Perth looked well in control when they led by 16 (76-60) late in the third, but a good scoring burst either side of the final break got the Breakers back in the game and set up the big finish.
Perth Wildcats 95 (James Ennis 31, Jermaine Beal 30, Matt Knight 12), NZ Breakers 91 (Gary Wilkinson 19, Mika Vukona 17, Daryl Corletto 14, Tom Abercrombie 11, Kerron Johnson 10).1Q: 33-21; HT: 50-45; 3Q: 77-65