Breakers 83 Perth 77
The Breakers passed the first true test of their title credentials with flying colours tonight, edging Perth at the NSEC in a blockbuster top-of-the-table clash.
A huge third quarter gave the defending champion Breakers ascendancy and, with it, saw them run out 83-77 winners, putting their noses in front in the hunt for home court advantage come finals time.
That's expected to be the next occasion Perth visit these shores, and if that proves true the Wildcats will want to avoid reminders of this contest.
They managed to hang with the home side for the first half, even taking a slim lead into the break, but the Breakers pulled away in the third with a monster 17-0 run to leave them alone in top spot in the Australian NBL.
The Breakers' league-leading home record, aided by seven straight double-digit wins in New Zealand, was always going to put to the test in a match-up against the holders of the best away record in the competition.
And so it looked in the first half but, within six third-quarter minutes, a four-point deficit turned into a 13-point Breakers lead as Perth went cold on offence at the same time as the North Shore club couldn't miss.
That ensured yet another win in the front of yet another sell-out crowd, and put the Breakers ahead on points in the battle between these basketball heavyweights. After dropping the first game in Perth, the Breakers travel there again on March 4 to decide the season series - pivotal for home court advantage if the teams end up level on the ladder.
Breakers coach Andrej Lemanis, at pains to play down the significance of the game during the week, struck a similar tone postgame.
"Nothing changes," he said. "It was a game, the sun's going to come up tomorrow and we'll carry on. We've still got eight games left in the regular season - there's a long way to go."
That final stretch always looks better from the top, and that was achieved tonight thanks to Cedric Jackson edging the contest at point guard with Damien Martin, finishing with 15 points, 10 assists and 4 rebounds.
Gary Wilkinson led the Breakers with 18 points, while CJ Bruton (14) and Tom Abercrombie (12) also made valuable contributions.
Wilkinson's points were punctuated with a series of trademark first pumps and arm waves - a sure sign the big man is enjoying himself.
"It was a lot of fun," Wilkinson said. "It's fun because they're a competitive team. We look at ourselves like we don't want to give up and they're the same way. You love playing teams like that and it makes it that much sweeter to win, because you battled and worked for it."
That battle was more than evident in the first half as, despite the Breakers shooting 75 per cent from the field in the opening quarter, Perth's high-intensity defence forced a few turnovers to remain within seven at the first break.
That turned around in the second period, with Perth going to the half with a two point edge after shutting down the Breakers' explosive offence. They limited the home side to just 11 points in the quarter, helped by accomplishing the rarest of feats - dominating the Breakers on the boards to the tune of a 21-10 advantage in the half.
Lemanis made that inferiority the main focus of his halftime speech, knowing overturning it was imperative to his side's chances.
"It's a stat that speaks for itself. If you take that away from them you can build some pressure with the defence, and we hadn't done that in the first half."
The team talk must have done the trick, as the Breakers came back into that category midway through the third quarter to manufacture the turning point in the game.
The 17-0 run saw the lead stand at 12 at the final break, as smiled and jokes on the Breakers bench illustrated the damage had been done.
Breakers 83 (Wilkinson 18, Jackson 15, Bruton 14)
Perth 77 (Lisch 20, Redhage 15, Nevill 14)