DJ Newbill buzzer-beater lifts NZ Breakers to last-gasp win over Sydney Kings
The Breakers have opened their account for the Australian NBL season, but boy did they do it the hard way as a DJ Newbill buzzer-beater got them out of jail against the Sydney Kings.
Up by 13 points at halftime, the Breakers looked to be cruising early in the fourth quarter only for the visitors to storm back and tie it up with three seconds to go.
But with everything on the line Newbill refused to panic, the American import driving to the rim for the game-winning layup to seal a dramatic 87-85 victory at Spark Arena.
"Sydney are a good team, they can score the ball and they obviously a good job of putting pressure on us towards the end. But one thing I was proud of was the guys hung tough and grinded it out," a relieved Breakers coach Paul Henare said.
"We needed a play at the end to get the win but to have that composure, I'm really proud of the guys to come away with that one."
The last-gasp bucket capped off a stellar night from Newbill, who was aggressive throughout on the way to 22 points and seven rebounds.
His late heroics overshadowed a vintage display by Kirk Penney as the Breakers veteran shrugged off the stomach virus which kept him out of practice early in the week to score a game-high 25 points, while Shea Ili had a career-best 14 points, holding his nerve with three crunch free throws down the stretch.
After going cold in the sloppy season-opening defeat to Cairns last week, the Breakers bench combined for a total of 27 points, to just six from their rivals.
And that was exactly the response Henare was looking for.
"Obviously we took better care of the ball with just the nine turnovers - that's a massive work-on for us - and there was great production from our bench," the coach added.
"I didn't lay a challenge down to them but I spoke about how important they are to our group and to see those guys come on and impact the game in a positive way was really pleasing."
The Breakers made a slow start and actually did well to only trail by three at the end of the first quarter.
But it wasn't long before they took control and it was all down to Penney.
If anyone was doubting whether the former league MVP could still get it done at the age of 36, he certainly showed his value after catching fire in the second quarter.
Penney, who made six of nine three-pointers, nailed his first four attempts from deep on the way to scoring 19 first-half points as the home team out-scored the Kings 28-11 in the second period.
Defence was an issue for the Kings last season and it does not appear to be getting any better, with the Andrew Gaze-coached side conceding a round-high 105 points during last week's loss to Adelaide.
But the first half effort was a new low for Gaze.
"We were absolutely gutted the way we played that first half defensively," Gaze said. "That first half was as bad as I can remember in my very short time here.
"Strategically you need to have your plans in place but I think we saw the benefits of that increased effort in the second as opposed to what was happening in the first."
To their credit, the Kings came out swinging in the third quarter and quickly found their range to make major inroads into the Breakers' lead.
Import Perry Ellis led the comeback with a team-high 19 points while Todd Blanchfield chimed in with 15.
The game looked to be headed to over-time when Ellis tied the game with his late tip-in. That was until Newbill had the final say.
Sydney don't have to wait long to take their revenge, though. The Kings face a quick turnaround for Sunday's home match against the Hawks but they will be back at Spark Arena on Thursday for the Breakers' next game.
NZ Breakers 87 (Kirk Penney 25, DJ Newbill 22, Shea Ili 15) Sydney Kings 85 (Perry Ellis 19, Todd Blanchfield 15, Kevin Lisch 15). 1Q: 26-29. HT: 54-41. 3Q: 69-63