More heartbreak for NZ Breakers in Melbourne
The Breakers' Australian NBL season has hit crisis point after the threepeat champions dropped a second straight road game in a tight finish.
The New Zealand club were pipped 84-82 by the Melbourne Tigers this afternoon, following their agonising 91-95 defeat at the Perth Wildcats on Friday night, and are now a precarious 4-8 and in grave danger of slipping right out of the playoff picture.
There is still enough time left to turn things round, but a second straight 0-2 road double has made the challenge extremely tough.
It doesn't get any easier either, with runaway leaders, the 11-1 Perth Wildcats, in Auckland next for a Friday night matchup at Vector Arena.
For a second straight game the Breakers produced a pretty respectable offensive performance (at least for three quarters), only to come up empty-handed as they could not make the big plays in yet another tense finish.
The second straight defeat, which ruined veteran CJ Bruton's 500th NBL appearance, will be hard to swallow for the Kiwi club as they once again let a royal shot at victory slip through their fingers at the finish.
The Tigers had done well to hit the lead 81-80 with just over two minutes remaining, and from then on made the plays when they had to as the contest came down to a series of key shots and free-throws.
Melbourne had led 82-80 with 25 seconds on the clock, before Breakers import Gary Wilkinson - arguably the lone bright light of the weekend - sunk what appeared to be a three-pointer in the corner.
But he had a toe on the line and his deep jumper locked the scores at 82-82.
Bizarrely, the Breakers then elected to foul standout Tigers import Mustapha Farrakhan, who finished with 20 points on nine-for-10 shooting, and when he made one of two from the stripe it came down to whether the visitors could nail a game-winner.
They had two cracks, but both came up empty when Tom Abercrombie's jumper rimmed out and then Bruton's last-gasp three-pointer was blocked by Farrakhan.
The Tigers were led excellently by Boomers power forward Mark Worthington who had much the better of his always entertaining matchup against Mika Vukona.
Worthington finished with a game-high 21 points (8/16 FG, 3/7 3PT), four rebounds, two steals and a block.
Farrakhan had easily his best outing since joining the Tigers, missing just one of a succession of pull-up jumpers to finish with 20 points, six assists and three boards.
Chris Goulding added a quiet 14 points and six rebounds for the Tigers, but was largely kept in check on six-for-18 shooting.
Wilkinson had a second consecutive strong showing for the Breakers, and he at least looks to be coming into his best form. He finished with 20 points (8/16 FG) and six boards and probably deserved a better outcome.
Abercrombie added 18 points on five-for-12 shooting, but with 16 of those coming in the first half questions will be asked about how he was allowed to become such a non-factor over the final two periods.
Youngster Reuben Te Rangi provided the other positive contribution for the Breakers, contributing 11 points (3/4 FG) and four boards in 15 minutes off the bench.
Bruton will not remember his 500th game too fondly, the veteran continuing to struggle in this his 17th season in the league. He made just one of eight shots to finish with four points, four assists and three boards.
Vukona added eight points and 10 boards, but took a bad knock late and missed a key put-back near the end that he would have been disappointed about.
Alex Pledger, too, could not find his fluency and finished with just six points and five boards in 14 minutes.
The Breakers had trailed 23-29 to the red-hot Tigers at the end of the first quarter, the home team shooting 71 percent from the floor and missing just five of their 17 field-goal attempts through the opening stanza.
Some soft defending contributed to that, but Worthington got it going early for the Tigers as he dropped nine first-quarters on four-of-five shooting. Abercrombie answered that with 10 points of his own in the first period.
Both teams continued to shoot the ball at a good clip trough the second quarter, but it was the Breakers who hit the front (51-47 at the half) as Wilkinson got his stroke going and Abercrombie slotted a couple of timely pull-up triples.
Abercrombie had 16 first-half points and Wilkinson 13 for the Breakers who maintained their advantage (71-68) by the end of the third quarter. But just 11 final-quarter points were never going to be enough and the Kiwi champs return home with some deep thinking to do.
Melbourne Tigers 84 (Mark Worthington 21, Mustapha Farrakhan 20, Chris Goulding 14); NZ Breakers 82 (Gary Wilkinson 20, Tom Abercrombie 18, Reuben Te Rangi 11). 1Q: 29-23; HT: 47-51; 3Q: 68-71.