The SKYCITY Breakers have turned in a performance that will be written in Breakers folklore, keeping finals hopes alive with an 88-70 domination of Melbourne United.
Do-or-die type games have come multiple times for the Breakers this season, and in every instance the proud Kiwi club has stepped up to the mark.
This time they had to do it without their spiritual leader of almost 15 years Mika Vukona, who was in hospital with a knee infection at the time of the game.
The Breakers’ collective stood up big time – and two young studs put the team on their backs.
Along with six double-digit scorers, eight Breakers posted at least five rebounds, while explosive athlete Finn Delany rocked the rim and brought the game-winning hustle, and defensive point guard Shea Ili hit two massive triples down the stretch to put the game away.
“Extremely proud and extremely happy for the group, considering what they’ve been through throughout this season and throughout the last few weeks, they’ve just taken everything in their stride,” Breakers coach Paul Henare said post-game.
“To see guys like Finn and Shea, and everyone that stepped on the floor tonight embraced the moment and the situation, and really stood up.
“We had a bit of a dress rehearsal [for tonight] with Rob and ‘Pledge’ playing together last weekend in Adelaide, so maybe it was a blessing in disguise that we were able to go through that last week.
“I think Mika will be sitting in that hospital bed really proud of his team.”
Opposing coach Dean Demopoulos ran the old ‘basketball gods’ cliché when talking about their unlikely hopes of a Swisse NBL Finals berth, but conceded that his side got beaten by a better Breakers outfit on the night.
“[The Breakers] went to the boards hard and did what they do. They were the better team tonight and they deserve the win, my hat’s off to them,” he said.
“We need to win [on Sunday], everybody needs to step up, be focused, locked in and give ourselves a chance for the basketball gods to smile down on us.
Breakers point guard and re-invigorator of their season Kevin Dillard struggled mightily from the field (4/16 shooting) but played facilitator, with seven assists, along with centre Rob Loe who got his on the back of numerous high-post feeds to cutters in the first half.
The Breakers missed a tonne of grunt without Vukona and Akil Mitchell, who left for the US earlier this week to seek further specialist treatment on the eye he injured against the Taipans two weeks ago, but still managed to win the rebound count 53-42 on the back of that earlier mentioned collective effort.
Minus two of their three best rebounders, the remaining big banger Alex Pledger put on the hard hat and set a tone with 12 points and six rebounds in the first half, while Delany completely took over in the second 20 minutes and Ili shut down the ever-dangerous Chris Goulding (six points) with smothering defence.
Ware (11 first-half points) matched motors with Pledger in an exciting first half but was United’s only genuine source of offence, getting to the cup at will, in the same vein as Monday night’s game against Illawarra.
Tied up at 38 apiece at half-time, the home side shot its way to a five-point lead with a quarter left.
A Paul Carter triple and three Delany jams in a row early in the quarter proved the kill shots as Ware tried in vain to get United back in it.
The SKYCITY Breakers will be glued to their television sets, witnessing their finals fate unfold before them, with a Melbourne win over Perth in the final game of the season on Sunday afternoon critical to the club’s hopes of progressing.
NEW ZEALAND BREAKERS 88 (Dillard 16, Penney 15, Delany 13)
MELBOURNE UNITED 70 (Ware 23, Andersen 10, Boone 10)