Breakers do it in overtime
IN THE end they didn't need him. No Abercrombie, no worries. Well, not too many.
BREAKERS 104 (Cedric Jackson 25, CJ Bruton 20, Daryl Corletto 16)
Tom Abercrombie and his dodgy ankle suited up but spent the entire match on the bench and had one of the best views of a game that was as dramatic as a grand-final clash should be.
The two teams couldn't be separated after normal time but the Breakers edged ahead in overtime to claim a crucial 1-0 lead in the best-of-three series.
It was a game of thrust and counter-thrust. Just as one team looked to have taken control, the other replied.
Many had predicted the series to be one of the all-time greats. If the first game was anything to go by, it will be.
"That's what finals basketball should be about," Breakers coach Andrej Lemanis said. "A showcase. The two best teams in the NBL going at it punch for punch. There were amazing momentum swings in the game. It was a hell of a game."
The Breakers now have the chance to wrap up back-to-back titles in Perth next Friday night - a third game will be played in Auckland if required - but Perth won't roll over.
They are a formidable outfit and proved that with their fighting performance last night, but they may feel they have missed an opportunity, with Abercrombie likely to feature in seven days' time.
"Right now it's a mental thing," Perth coach Rob Beveridge said. "It's about who wants it the most. Tonight it looked like New Zealand wanted it the most."
That came courtesy of a handful of wily veterans and an American import who played the biggest hand.
Dillon Boucher and CJ Bruton got the Breakers going after they started shockingly. Boucher chucked himself around the court like a stage diver at a rock concert and Bruton (20 points) nailed some big three-pointers.
Then Cedric Jackson took over. He's not known as a scorer but the point guard earned his coin when his team needed him most. Perth didn't help themselves by allowing him time and space to penetrate.
The American is at his best driving to the basket and dishing it off to a teammate, and he did it almost at will at times, but he also went to the rim himself a few times and led the Breakers with 25 points and eight assists.
He was the one who got the Breakers going initially with a strong drive after Perth opened out to an 11-0 lead before some of the sold-out crowd of 9125 at Vector Arena had even taken their seats.
It looked like the Breakers were suffering from stage fright as they made errors, missed shots and lost the dribble but they aren't a team to panic and scored 22 of the next 26 points, including five three-pointers, to claim a 28-24 first-quarter lead.
Their swagger - Beveridge calls it arrogance - returned as the Wildcats lost their range and they started to work the inside when the three-pointers inevitably dried up. By halftime, the Breakers led 50-35 and there seemed no path back for Perth.
Yet they found one. The Wildcats rattled off quick points to take an unlikely 53-52 lead inside five minutes and it was one they held for most of the rest of the match.
Things looked dire for the home side when they trailed by six with less than three minutes remaining but the Breakers found something else, again thanks to Boucher, Bruton and Jackson, before Mika Vukona stepped up in overtime with a couple of big plays to seal the win.
Boucher had the final say, literally, when he told delirious fans they hadn't finished yet. They haven't, but they have started well.