When Tom Abercrombie is in the form he showed last night he feels unstoppable, which is a good thing for the Breakers because they'll soon need him to be.
Abercrombie took control in the fourth quarter of last night's game against bogey team Wollongong, draining 12 points to lead the Breakers to an eight-point win.
The 24-year-old finished with 25 points for the night, thanks to shooting five of six from the floor in the final stanza, as the Breakers turned a tight contest into a vital victory to stay on top of the Australian NBL ladder.
With only six games remaining in the regular season, and just two at the North Shore fortress, wins like last night's are essential if the Breakers are to hold off Perth's challenge to secure the minor premiership and home court advantage through the playoffs.
Abercrombie denied he deliberately upped the ante when it mattered most against Wollongong, but his performance and the box score would suggest otherwise.
"I think I've always just been someone who lets the game come to me,'' he said. "I felt, in that second half, that my shot felt good, and I was trying to be a little bit more aggressive. The pull-up felt good, and when I've got that pull-up going I feel like I'm pretty tough to stop because I can get that off pretty much whenever I want.''
It's a scary thought for potential playoff opposition.
Abercrombie has added a new string to his bow this season. Not only is he the springy swingman capable of providing several highlight-reel plays per game, but he can also now take over games and give the Breakers the kind of scoring outbursts absent since Kirk Penney's departure in the off-season.
"Tom has the ability to do that,'' Breakers coach Andrej Lemanis said. "I thought, certainly in that second half, the switch went off in Tom and he got aggressive and he started to get two feet in the paint. When he plays that way, good things happen for him and his team.''
CJ Bruton, a leader within the Breakers himself, said earlier in the season this was "Tommy's team'', and the Breakers are close to cementing that status by tying the North Shore local to a new three-year deal. The contract would enable Abercrombie to leave for the NBA if an opportunity opened up, but the Breakers must hope that is later rather than sooner.
They'll certainly be relying on Abercrombie down the stretch and into the playoffs this season. Five of the Breakers' last six games this season are against teams with winning records, including a visit to presumptive title challengers Perth and a home-and-away series against third-placed Gold Coast.
The Blaze are riding a five-game winning streak, including a 41-point dismantling of the Wollongong side the Breakers squeezed past last night, and Hawks guard Ayinde Ubaka said Gold Coast are the ones to watch heading into the post-season.
"They're playing the best basketball in the league right now. They've smashed a couple of teams,'' he said. "We still have six games to go. It's anybody's for the taking right now. You can't count anybody out.''
With Perth, Gold Coast and Cairns all lurking, the Breakers know every win they earn puts them one step closer to home advantage, which cannot be understated given the Breakers' 11-1 record this season on this side of the Tasman.
And with Abercrombie in form like last night's, those wins are a lot more likely to come.
- APNZBy Kris Shannon Email Kris