NZ Breakers purr as they face Melbourne Tigers
Breakers assistant coach Paul Henare has a good feeling about today's second half of a gruelling Aussie NBL road double in Melbourne.
Never mind the travel. Never mind the gut-wrenching disappointment of seeing a fabulous comeback fall frustratingly short in Perth on Friday night. Never mind the 4-7 hole the threepeat champions have dug for themselves that makes today's outing against the Tigers pretty damn important.
The Breakers produced close to their best offensive performance of the season in Perth to challenge the runaway league leaders about as hard as they've been all season at home. Henare liked the way his men went about their business at the raucous Perth Arena, and feels like they're getting closer to finding the form they've been searching for all campaign.
Plus, it's veteran guard CJ Bruton's 500th NBL game today - only the 12th player in league history to join that club - and Henare senses a resolve among the Kiwi club to mark that occasion in the appropriate manner.
"As a player and competitor, any time you come off a loss, especially a tough one like this, you want to have another crack at anybody," said Henare following Friday's 95-91 defeat to the Cats.
"The good thing for us is we get to do it in just under 48 hours. We've got a travel day in between, and the boys will be ready. It's CJ's 500th game, we've spoken about it as a group and we really want to recognise CJ and honour him by putting in our best effort. The boys will be ready for that one." Despite how it turned out, there was a lot positive to take out of Perth. The Breakers twice fought back from big deficits (18 in the second quarter and 16 in the third), shot a solid 53% from the floor, and 50 from beyond the arc, and had five double-figure scorers.
They also had no luck, either with the refereeing or basketball gods, and the game-sealing three-pointer from Cats star James Ennis was a classic example. He was a good two metres out from the three-point arc and banked in a heave from in front of the basket to deny the Kiwis a late shot at a victory they'd probably earned.
"We're really close to getting it right," added Henare. "The strength of the group in terms of believing in each other, in Deano (head coach Dean Vickerman) and in the systems, is getting us to a point where we came close to beating the No 1 team that not many teams have got close to this year." Henare was especially encouraged by a 19-point haul from import Gary Wilkinson. "He's been struggling with his back and hip but you could almost see the old Gary out there. We're really close to where we want to be."
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