Breakers 82 Wollongong 74
Revenge is a dish best served cold but the Breakers' fourth quarter against Wollongong tonight was as blistering as they come.
After falling to the Hawks five nights ago in Australia, the same opposition who earlier in the season handed the Breakers their only home loss, retribution was squarely on the Breakers' minds at the NSEC.
And they got just that, winning 82-74 after a scorching final quarter which saw the league leaders turn a tight two-point lead into a eight-point win, thanks in large to Tom Abercrombie's 11 points in the final period.
The Breakers failed to play at the vengeful best for most of the game, but that mattered little in the end as they extended their lead over Perth at the top of the Australian NBL.
With just six games in the regular season remaining, and only two at their North Shore fortress, tonight's win was hugely important if the Breakers (16-6) are to pip Perth (14-7) for the minor premiership.
It was also imperative mentally as, despite the Hawks (6-15) being well out of play-off contention, the defending champions' lustre would have been diminished if a team of Wollongong's calibre so definitively owned them throughout the season.
In the end, the season series between the sides was split at two, owing a lot to the Breakers' shackling of Hawks' forward Oscar Forman. A former Breaker, Forman torched the Breakers for 29 points on a perfect night from behind the arc last weekend, but was held to just five points tonight and only landed his first three in the fourth quarter.
Abercrombie finished with a game-high 25, while point guard Cedric Jackson had 20 points to go with a game-high 10 rebounds.
The Breakers had no problem shackling Forman early in the game, with some tighter guarding from Mika Vukona ensuring the Breakers' chief destroyer was held without a shot in the first quarter. Despite Forman being shut down, the Hawks still went to the opening break with a two-point lead.
Jackson, leading the league in assists, was held to just one dish in the Breakers' last two losses to Wollongong and he struggled again early, totalling just two in the first half to go with a technical foul for disputing a non-call from the officials.
The ensuing possession gave the Hawks an eight-point lead, the largest of the night for either side, but the Breakers managed to cut that deficit to two by the major intermission with the sides' similarities extending beyond the 40-38 scoreline.
The Breakers shot 48 per cent from the floor in the first half, slightly better than the Hawks' 47 per cent. Both sides had a feeble four assists, while Wollongong shaded the turnover count (8-7).
Whatever way you looked at it, the Breakers' bogey side were more than holding their own, especially considering a block and a turnover was the extent of Forman's contribution.
But the Breakers of old began to show in the third quarter, reversing the two-point gap to take a slim lead into the final quarter, and that advantage quickly grew to seven midway through the period with some momentum-building plays.
By the time Abercrombie drained a three with a few minutes left on the clock, the lead had swollen to double figures for the first time all night, and the Breakers had all but vanquished their nemesis.
Breakers 82 (Abercrombie 25, Jackson 20, Bruton 13)
Wollongong 74 (Catron 14, Ubaka 13, Martin 12)
- APNZBy Kris Shannon Email Kris