Breakers have hope, but doing it for CJ Bruton
How much does CJ Bruton mean to his Breakers team-mates? Put it this way, Daryl Corletto is literally peeing blood and has an ankle twice its normal size but he wouldn't miss these last two games for quids.
The Breakers play the Sydney Kings tonight at the NSEC and finish their Aussie NBL season next Friday at Vector when the Cairns Taipans come to town. The best they can finish is 12-16, and that's almost certainly not going to be enough to sneak into the top four.
But there is a mathematical equation that gets the Breakers in, should the Kings and Wollongong Hawks both lose key games over the run home, and the champs take care of their business. Right now the latter looks the biggest challenge after the debacle at Vector last Friday.
The Kiwi club took a 14-point lead into the final quarter against the Melbourne Tigers, but crumbled in a 44-17 final stanza that in reality put the final nail in the coffin of their playoff hopes.
Immediately after the game, Breakers coach Dean Vickerman delivered a damning verdict on the effort of his senior starting players and then declared the remaining two games were about pride and ''seeing CJ out on the right note''.
Corletto is certainly living that ethos, telling Fairfax Media after yesterday's final practice he would be on the floor for the next two games, no matter the issues he was experiencing.
''My ankle is not in good shape,'' the veteran guard said.
''But I can't look CJ in the eye and not play. I know he would do that for me and I've got to do the same thing for him.''
Adding to Corletto's issues have been complications from his medication.
''The painkillers have put some blood in my kidneys, and I've had to be off them for a week. So the pain comes back, but all I have to do is look at that No.23 (Bruton's jersey number) and realise if I can help out for two weeks I'm going do it.''
Corletto revealed that the Breakers hadn't lost hope of sneaking in the back door of the play-offs, even if it's going to require the dominos to all fall their way.
''We've got a glimmer of hope and it's still about winning that fourth championship. I know people will probably laugh at us, but there's belief among this group if we can get there we're still going to win it.
''While there's hope, there's still a chance. Once they take that hope away it all becomes about CJ next Friday night.''
Coach Dean Vickerman confirmed Bruton will start the last two games as he winds up a fabulous six-year career at the club that netted three championships and placed him second of all time in scoring, with 2024 points.
''He's deserving of that,'' Vickerman said.
''We were disappointed how we finished that [Tigers] game. We put ourselves in a great position. We've got to show our fans we're willing to fight right till the end.''
Vickerman is also expecting his senior players to respond to the criticism that has been levelled at them. Tall Black Tom Abercrombie admitted the coach's post-game tune-up had been well deserved.
''We were terrible in that fourth quarter,'' Abercrombie said.
''We didn't bring it at either end of the court, we couldn't stop the rot and it was embarrassing to be a part of.
''We owe it to ourselves and our fans to go out and put in our best possible performance in the last two weeks. No-one's proud of how we played last week in that fourth quarter, and it certainly leaves a very sour taste in your mouth.''
Injured Breakers centre Alex Pledger confirmed yesterday he had scheduled ankle surgery for soon after the season ends next Friday.
With a 10-week rehab, he won't play in the upcoming Kiwi NBL but hopes to be fit to take a full part in the Tall Blacks trials in June.
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