Breakers suffer loss to Wildcats, drop to 4-9
Festive cheer turned to Christmas fear for the Breakers tonight as they were delivered a chilling reminder of the new pecking order in this Australian NBL.
The league-leading Perth Wildcats came to Auckland's downtown arena (attendance 7597) and rained on their hosts' festive parade with a 71-62 victory to close out the pre-Christmas part of the season in some style.
In a game of fluctuating fortunes for both sides, it was the Cats who strung together the most consistent basketball to extend their record to a commanding 12-1. The Breakers, on the other hand, sink to 4-9 and their playoff hopes now hang by a thread as they head into the two-week Christmas hiatus.
The Breakers finally found an effective defensive game in the second half, but by then they had little hope of hauling in a Wildcats lead that had grown to 16 points by halftime. The home side cut the deficit to seven in the third quarter and eight in the final one, but each time the composed league leaders found ways to stem the tide.
The Wildcats were led, as usual, by star import James Ennis (16 points, five rebounds), but the Breakers will take some satisfaction from containing the athletic American to just three second-half points. They also did some sterling work to keep Perth's other high-scoring guard Jermaine Beal to just two points on one-for-five shooting.
But this is a quality Wildcats outfit, and when others were forced to come up big they obliged, Matt Knight finishing with 15 points and nine boards, Shawn Redhage adding 12 points and five rebounds and the livewire Damian Martin adding 11 points and six rebounds.
Mika Vukona led the Breakers' efforts with 16 points (5/11 FG, 6/6 FT) and seven boards, while Tom Abercrombie (15 points on five-of-13 shooting) and Kerron Johnson (14 points, five rebounds, four assists) provided the bulk of the backup.
But quiet nights for Alex Pledger, Gary Wilkinson, Corey Webster and Daryl Corletto did not help the cause, and the Breakers head into their pre-Christmas break with a Christmas list of fixes needed if they're to save this season.
"It was a really poor start from us," said Breakers coach Dean Vickerman of a shocking opening quarter where his side made its first bucket, then missed 15 straight shots as Perth went on a 17-0 run.
"When you play the Wildcats and you don't contest or challenge them in the effort areas you end up with a result like that. I thought their attack on the offensive glass was fantastic. We talked about making the first hit but I didn’t think we did that very well.
"We did a better job with Beal, but we left Damian Martin too open in the corner and he made a number of key threes.
"For me that's one of the first games this year where for longer periods of time our effort levels were not what they needed to be. When we were good we were good, and we had patches just after halftime when we exerted ourselves and got the stops that we needed.
"We got enough stops in the second half to hold them to 71 points, but we just couldn’t find a great rhythm offensively to keep that scoreboard ticking over."
The Breakers had made about the worst start possible when they missed 15 of their first 16 shots and duly trailed 17-2 with two minutes left in the opening quarter. Not even a comparative flurry of late scoring, that saw the hosts close to 8-18 by period's end, could mask an ice-cold opening right at the worst possible time.
The Breakers went four-of-20 for the quarter and only seven offensive rebounds stopped it being an absolute bloodbath as the Wildcats struggled a little for their own rhythm early on.
It got better for the home side in the second stanza - possibly heartened by the sight of Gary Wilkinson shaking off an early injury to return to the court - and a nine-for-14 shooting quarter represented a dramatic turnaround.
The only problem was the Wildcats - especially the slick Ennis and bothersome Redhage - also heated up, and after swishing 12 of their 19 shots the visitors extended their advantage to a commanding 16 (49-33) by the major break.
The Breakers gave themselves a sniff when they opened the third quarter with a 9-0 run and kept the Cats scoreless for nearly seven minutes. But just when they had found some momentum, they lost it and Perth closed out the period with 10 points in the last three minutes to lead 59-46
From there it was going to take something, well, miraculous, but it never eventuated and Perth closed out this commanding first of the season with yet another victory.
Wildcats coach Trevor Gleeson liked his side's defensive intensity early and was pleased with the mental strength shown to withstand a "pretty strong run" by the Breakers in the third quarter.
"It was playoff-type physical basketball out there, especially in the second half," said Gleeson. "We knew they'd come out aggressive, and that's what they did."
Perth Wildcats 71 (James Ennis 16, Matt Knight 15, Shawn Redhage 12, Damian Martin 11), NZ Breakers 62 (Mika Vukona 16, Tom Abercrombie 15, Kerron Johnson 14). 1Q: 18-8; HT: 49-33; 3Q: 59-46.