Breakers Back In Grand Finals

Publish Date
Saturday, 20 February 2016, 11:39PM

A fifth-straight playoffs sweep has seen the New Zealand Breakers firmly fix their gaze on a fifth Australian NBL title.

The defending champions last night dispatched Melbourne United at Vector Arena to win their 11th consecutive post-season game and advance to yet another grand final series.

It's been so long the Breakers would be forgiven if they've forgotten what losing in the finals feels like. They must have an almost unbeatable aura at this time of year and soon either Perth or Illawarra will face the unenviable task of dealing the Breakers their first playoffs defeat since 2012.

The Kiwi club will again start that series on the road but, as they showed in the semifinals, that will be of no impediment as they seek to build their glittering legacy.

Home advantage, after all, counts for nothing if there is no game three, and the Breakers were intent on making that a reality last night. Aside from a sloppy second quarter, they enjoyed ascendancy throughout, once more proving they boast too many weapons at one end and a defence that would be the envy of most militaries at the other.

Cedric Jackson did what he does at this time of year, scoring eight of his 17 points in the fourth quarter to turn what looked like a fraught finish into a comfortable cruise.

And Tom Abercrombie was an able partner, adding 11 of his game-high 23 points in the final period as the Breakers blew their one-point lead into a series-sealing margin.

But this performance was about much more than that one-two punch. It was about a 47-32 victory in the rebounding count that illustrated a team-wide intensity. It was about a defence that restricted a talent-laden opponent to 32 points in the second half.

And it was about a team winning their seventh-straight game - having saved a season that looked lost - and moving another step close to giving Dean Vickerman a fitting farewell.

"This win streak feels like two weeks and that six-game losing streak felt like two months," the coach said of the slump that nearly cost his side a playoff place. "I'm just so pleased we were able to get over the hump and find this form at the right time of the season."

That form, at times in the first half, looked like it had deserted the Breakers at the wrong time. After the home side had applied the defensive clamps early to take a six-point edge into the second, it all started to go wrong at both ends of the court.

The Breakers' shots stopped falling and they started turning over the ball too often, allowing Melbourne to embark on a 12-0 run and storm in front by five heading into halftime.

"This group, in big moments and big games, just go to another level," Vickerman said. "We saw that in the second half tonight. There were some big moments in the game, and Ced and Tai [Wesley] and Tommy made big plays for us."

Those big plays arrived after the Breakers took a one-point lead into the fourth. First, Jackson took control with back-to-back threes from deep, then Abercrombie added five quick points.

And, suddenly, the Breakers were back in the grand finals.

Breakers 91 (T. Abercrombie 23, C. Jackson 19, T. Wesley 16) 
Melbourne 78 (C. Goulding 23, H. Warrick 17, D. Kickert, 16)
HT: 41-46

NZ Herald

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