Wilkinson lifts NZ Breakers off bottom of ANBL
This one was on Gary Wilkinson, and Big Red responded with a crucial game-winning turn for the Breakers in Sydney today.
With starting centre Alex Pledger out with an ankle injury, the Breakers were always going to need something special from their classy American big man - and he obliged with a sizzling shooting display in a vital 99-83 victory over the Sydney Kings.
Wilkinson finished a fine all-round outing with a game-high 31 points (12/21 FG) and six rebounds, and outplayed highly-rated Kings centre AJ Ogilvy who was kept to just 10 points on five-of-15 shooting - though he did haul in 16 rebounds.
As promised, the Breakers responded to their tough situation - they had won just one of seven road games hitherto - with high pressure defence that was a crucial ingredient in a victory that takes the Kiwi club to 5-9, and lifts them off the bottom rung of the Australian NBL ladder.
They forced a glaring 21 turnovers from a sloppy Kings outfit who paid dearly for their profligacy, with the Breakers cashing in with 21 points off the giveaways.
It was not a perfect performance from the Breakers, who got pounded on the boards (46-23) and let Kings sharpshooter Ben Madgen get away on them a little too much in the first half.
But it was a gritty, gutsy display of the kind that has been all too rare this season.
Wilkinson had plenty of help, too, with fellow import Kerron Johnson producing one of his best displays of the season with 21 points (6/12 FG, 9/13 FT).
Tom Abercrombie shook off early foul trouble to finish with 13 points (4/7 FG, 2/3 3PT) and two big blocks, Corey Webster added 11 points as he knocked down five of his 10 shots and Mika Vukona was rock solid with seven points, eight boards and three assists.
The Breakers would have been satisfied, on the whole, with a 43-42 halftime lead, even if a hot 13-point second quarter from Kings marksman Madgen did enable the hosts to claw back an eight-point deficit.
The Breakers had trailed 17-19 after a fairly pedestrian opening quarter, but as both teams started to find their shooting strokes in the second period the game opened up a little.
With Wilkinson troubling the Kings from both inside and out (15 first-half points on six-of-nine shooting) the Kiwi club edged out to 36-28 midway through the second But the visitors had no answers on defence when Madgen found his groove to finish the period with a succession of nothing-but-net jumpers to all but whittle that deficit away.
The Breakers shot a solid 50 percent from the floor (16/32 FG) for the first half, but their short-handed and under-sized squad got a pasting on the boards and dearly felt three quick fouls for Abercrombie.
The threepeat champions still trailed by a bucket at the end of the third quarter, but as the game went on the line over the run home it was the Kiwi club who made all the big buckets to edge out to a double-figure advantage inside the last four minutes.
The Breakers return home before heading to Adelaide for the second of four straight road games next Saturday.
NZ Breakers 99 (Gary Wilkinson 31, Kerron Johnson 21, Tom Abercrombie 13, Corey Webster 11) Sydney Kings 83 (Ben Madgen 26, Sam Young 21, Tom Garlepp 14, AJ Ogilvy 10). 1Q: 17-19; HT: 43-42; 3Q: 63-65.