NZ Breakers keep ANBL playoffs dream alive
A season-high scoring outburst from Tom Abercrombie and a performance out of the time machine from CJ Bruton has kept the Breakers' season alive.
Trailing for three of the four quarters against a quality Townsville Crocodiles outfit at the NSEC tonight, the Breakers needed something special to scramble the 102-99 victory they needed to stay in the playoff hunt.
They got it from Abercrombie and Bruton, and Mika Vukona, Gary Wilkinson and Corey Webster for that matter, as they turned round a five-point deficit at three-quarter time, began a thrilling final quarter with a 17-5 run and then hung on for dear life in the face of a fabulous Crocs fightback at the finish.
The victory, their fourth straight at home, advances the Breakers to 10-14, and leaves them in with a sniff if they can win their four remaining games - three of which will be in Auckland.
The Crocs (now 8-15) will be gutted their gritty effort, paced by a brilliant 26 points from steely Southland Sharks import Brian Conklin, didn't count for more. A triple from Steve Markovic on the buzzer just rimmed out, denying them a crack at overtime.
It hadn't been much of a season for Bruton, averaging a career-low 4.9 points. But the 38-year-old veteran, in his 512th NBL game, came up big with 14 points off the bench (4/5 FG, 4/5 3PT) to go with six assists and a pair of steals.
Abercrombie was magnificent, right when his team needed him to be. His season-best 29 points came on 12-of-19 shooting, via an array of jump shots with very high degrees of difficulty. He also had two big blocks and four boards.
Vukona came up big in the final quarter to finish with a season-high 20 points (8/12 FG) and six rebounds, while Wilkinson (14 points, 10 rebounds) and Webster (11 points, five assists) also played crucial roles.
"CJ tonight was unbelievable," Breakers coach Dean Vickerman said. "His organisation of people through that little patch where he got Mika a number of looks was outstanding, and he made a couple of three-balls to keep us going when we needed it.
"Abercrombie came out aggressive and continued on at a high level all game. He even called his own number a few times, which is exactly what we want from him."
Vickerman hoped a late ankle injury to Kerron Johnson, who had nine points and seven assists, isn't too serious. "He was available to go back in, so hopefully that means he'll be fine for the Cairns game (on Saturday night)."
The Breakers shot a sizzling 63 percent (21/33 FG) in the second half as they scored 57 points over the final two quarters. But they would not have been happy about the 13 offensive rebounds they gave up as they were thumped 34-24 on the boards overall.
The Breakers had spent most of the first half in catch-up mode, trying to hang with a more urgent and accurate Crocs outfit who led by three after the first quarter, by as many as 10 in the second and eventually by five (50-45) at the major break.
The Crocs again extended in the third, leading by as many as 11, before the Breakers clawed it back to five (70-75) with 10 minutes left to keep their season alive.
That big run early in the final quarter (the Breakers opened with a 7-0 run, and led 90-83 at the mid-point) looked to have put the game safe, only for the Crocs to stay alive off the offensive glass and take the contest to the wire.
The Breakers now head to Cairns for a Saturday night clash they must win to stay in the hunt. Wilkinson, for one, believes it's on. "It takes a champion's mindset. We've come to embrace the terminology - learn to love the things that are hard. That's what we're all about now. If you're aching, you just embrace the challenge, overcome it and fight to win."
NZ Breakers 102 (Tom Abercrombie 29, Mika Vukona 20, CJ Bruton 14, Gary Wilkinson 14, Corey Webster 11), Townsville Crocodiles 99 (Brian Conklin 26, Todd Blanchfield 17, Steve Markovic 15, Mitch Norton 14, Jacob Holmes 11). 1Q: 22-25; HT: 45-50; 3Q: 70-75.