Heartfelt victory for NZ Breakers over Taipans
Not quite a Valentine's Day massacre, but the next best thing for a Breakers outfit who desperately needed a bounce-back victory.
After the heartbreak of the two-point loss in Sydney last Saturday, an all-the-way 96-78 win over the Cairns Taipans in front of 6442 fans at Vector Arena tonight was just what the doctor ordered for the desperate champions from New Zealand.
The victory leapfrogs the now 9-12 Breakers past the 9-14 Taipans into fifth on the standings, and still with an outside shot at the playoffs if they can get a roll going over their final seven games.
It was a polished all-round display by the Breakers who were again led by 22 points from on-fire big man Gary Wilkinson.
Wilkinson, who has become the spiritual leader of this late resurgence from the Breakers, went nine-of-13 from the floor, three of six from downtown and added nine rebounds in a much more composed performance this week.
Equally valuable was 21 points from a switched-on Tom Abercrombie (7/10 FG, 1/2 3PT) to go with four boards, two assists and a pair of steals. The talented small forward played with aggression and the Taipans had no answer to his athleticism throughout.
Point guard Kerron Johnson had another strong game with 12 points, five assists and three steals, while Corey Webster followed up a strong week of practice with 11 points, three rebounds and a pair of steals.
Replacement big man Casey Frank also had the big crowd on their feet when he threw down a turn-back-the-clock alley-oop dunk among his haul of nine points, three rebounds and four assists.
The Taipans were led by 15 points from Alex Loughton, but never got anyone going well enough to enable them to stick with the Breakers who shot a sizzling 57 percent from the floor and respectable 39 from deep.
The champs also forced 15 turnovers from the Taipans and converted that into a 20-7 advantage on points off the giveaways.
"A lot of the turnovers were very careless and soft and led to simple plays," bemoaned Taipans coach Aaron Fearne. "It's pretty hard to win when you're getting outscored off turnovers by 13 points."
Breakers coach Dean Vickerman credited another standout offensive display from his side. "We shot the ball very well, and that always helps. And I thought we did a pretty solid job on defence for the most part of the game."
The only downside for the Breakers was 13 offensive boards given up, but they managed to contain the damage from those to a manageable level.
The Breakers had worked into a seven-point (43-36) lead by the major break on the back of 15 first-half points from a noticeably more aggressive Abercrombie who only blighted an outstanding effort (five-of-seven from the field; nine points coming in a slick second period) by picking up his third foul late.
The home side shot well (50 percent from the floor; 40 from deep) and did a pretty solid job on defence, keeping the Taipans to just 11-of-30 for the half. But the visitors stayed in touch, mainly on the back of six offensive rebounds, and some timely buckets just when the Breakers looked like running away.
The Breakers opened the third quarter brilliantly behind a burst of magic from Johnson who sparked an 11-0 run (taking the lead to 18) inside the first couple of minutes. The Taipans rallied briefly, but when the home side grew the lead to 21 late in the period there was only ever going to be one result.
The Breakers now prepare for a crucial away double at Wollongong and Adelaide next weekend, with a split the minimum requirement.
NZ Breakers 96 (Gary Wilkinson 22, Tom Abercrombie 21, Kerron Johnson12, Corey Webster 11) Cairns Taipans 78 (Alex Loughton 15, Cameron Gliddon 13, Stephen Weigh 13, Demetri McCamey 11). 1Q: 24-17; HT: 43-36; 3Q: 75-55