They pulled off a miracle in Perth last year, this time around the Breakers will be hoping for a spot of divine intervention in Townsville next Thursday after being humbled by the Crocs in their opening ANBL semifinal last night at Vector Arena.
The Breakers swept the Crocs 3-0 in the regular season and topped the league for the second year running with a 22-6 record. That counted for nothing last night as their 11-match unbeaten run at home was snapped in convincing fashion at the worst possible time.
The Crocs outmuscled the Breakers under the hoop, nullifying Mika Vukona to claim the rebounding battle 35-27. They were vastly more effective on penetration in the early going and, having broken down the Breakers, deadly from distance when the game became a shootout in the second half.
Having shot just one of five from three-point range in the first half the Crocs exploded with 7/9 in the second. That pace was far too hot for the Breakers to handle.
"We need to play better,'' coach Andrej Lemanis said. "We didn't play to our normal level. They shot it well - some of that was due to us not having the defensive intensity we needed.''
Tom Abercrombie (20 points) was outstanding for the Breakers, but too often his was a lone hand.
The Breakers have been here before, having been similarly thumped by Perth in the corresponding fixture last year. On that occasion they produced a spectacular turnaround thanks largely to Kirk Penney's virtuoso 38-point display.
This time around there is no Penney. A vastly improved collective effort appears the only route to salvation.
"Obviously we are not happy, but I don't think we are down on ourselves in terms of what we are able to accomplish or in confidence in our ability to go to Townsville and get a win,'' forward Gary Wilkinson said. "It's just that we let and opportunity get away and for the second year in a row we are doing the same thing. We are a team that when a challenge has presented we have stepped up and got the job done.
"When we have our backs to the wall we have proved that we can do it before and we can do it again.''
Such was the dominance of the Crocs' last night that you'd be a brave soul to bet on a Breakers revival. Then again, after last year's spectacular revival, it might pay to simply hold all bets.
Lemanis said his side may have been a touch jaded after last wekeend's final round double header, although he also pointed out now was not the time of the season to look for excuses.
"We've got to put all that shit behind us now and come out and play,'' he said.
"There's a reason why they call it a series. If you play with the right mindset throughout the series then things can happen for you.''
The Breakers to took a 21-17 lead into the first break but they could never shake the Crocs and by half time the visitors led by three.
With point guard Cedric Jackson out of rhythm, producing just a solitary assist and three points, and Vukona having a torrid time matching up against the Crocs' bigs, the Breakers wwould have had had plenty to ponder at half time.
Hopes of a second half revival were quickly killed off as the Crocs caught fire from the three point arc.
Next stop Townsville. The question for the Breakers is whether it will be the final stop.
Townsville Crocodiles 99 New Zealand Breakers 82
- APNZBy Steve Deane Email Steve