Basketball: Breakers send series back to Auckland

By Kris Shannon

Breakers player Mika Vukona. Photo / Dean Purcell
Breakers player Mika Vukona. Photo / Dean Purcell

Townsville 83
Breakers 94

History never repeats - except for the New Zealand Breakers.

Facing elimination in one of the toughest venues in the Australian NBL, the Breakers levelled their semifinal series against Townsville with a 94-83 win tonight.

It's the second year running the Breakers have crossed the ditch knowing nothing but a win will do to keep alive their season. Last year, they put Perth to the sword on their way to winning a maiden championship, and their defence of that crown now hinges on Saturday night's winner-takes-all game three at Vector Arena.

Like last year, tonight's victory was inspired by a return to the court from a stricken starter. Cedric Jackson played the part of Mika Vukona this time around, with the American point guard rising from a wheelchair to take the court while showing few signs of the ankle injury he suffered at training during the week.

Jackson played 27 minutes and finished with 14 points and five assists, while the Breakers got huge contributions from their bench - with CJ Bruton's 18 points leading the team - to send the series back to Auckland.

Where their game one loss was marked by a lack of intensity, the Breakers showed plenty of that from beginning to end tonight. They crashed the boards to finish with a 42-32 advantage, while shooting 47 per cent from the field compared to Townsville's 40.

The early signs were encouraging for the Breakers. Not only did Jackson take his place in the starting lineup, but he ignited the offence with the first five points of the game.

Mika Vukona was rebounding at both ends as the Breakers resumed their superiority on the boards, and the Crocs shooting was well down from the 57 per cent they hit in game one.

That all added up to an early Breakers lead, which swelled with a 14-1 run as the visitors' second unit came off the bench to open up a double digit lead at the first break.

The Breakers began the second period by missing a succession of three-pointers to fall to 3-14 from deep, with Tom Abercrombie (0-4) and CJ Bruton (1-5) particularly guilty.

That, combined with some some deadly shooting from Townsville's Cedar brothers, saw the Crocs pull within four.

But the Breakers seemed to finally get the message and got closer to the hoop, with some inspired play in the paint from Alex Pledger seeing the lead quickly grow to a game-high 13. Pledger played only 12 minutes in game one but his team-high 12 points saw the Breakers take a 52-38 lead into the halftime break, with more than half of those points coming from the bench.

A key reason for the Breakers' big lead was the shackling of game one tormenter Pete Crawford. He scored 26 points in Auckland but, thanks to some tight defence from Vukona, could only register on the scoreboard three minutes into the third quarter.

Another factor was the play of Dillon Boucher, with the Kiwi veteran scoring four points, dishing out four assists and leading his side with six rebounds in the opening half. His departure from the court midway through the third, after sustaining a blow to his mouth, was the catalyst for a Crocs comeback as Townsville closed to within seven.

But successive three pointers from CJ Bruton to close the quarter kept Townsville at arm's length and ensured the Breakers took an 11-point lead into the final break.

And, apart from a brief scare when the deficit dropped to six, the Breakers did enough to send the series to a deciding third game.

Townsville 83 (Gill 24, Cedar 15, Blanchfield 10)
Breakers 94 (Bruton 18, Wilkinson 14, Jackson 14)
HT: 38-52

- APNZ

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