NZ Breakers 97
Townsville Crocs 80
The New Zealand Breakers are back where they belong - the Australian NBL finals.
The defending champions completed a come-from-behind semifinal series victory over Townsville at Vector Arena tonight, winning the deciding game three 97-80.
They will begin the defence of their crown at the same venue next Thursday night against an as yet unknown opponent. Their arch rivals Perth host Gold Coast later tonight, with the winner given the tough task of trying to take the Breakers' trophy.
The Breakers are unlikely to relinquish it easily, especially if they continue to play the way they did in dispatching the Crocs tonight. Aside from an early scare, the home side dominated proceedings for the entirety of the encounter and all but iced the game with a huge third quarter.
The only concern for the Breakers was a late injury scare for Tom Abercrombie. Last year's finals MVP could be in doubt to play in this year's series, after a hard foul from Pete Crawford saw Abercrombie go over on his ankle late in the game.
Abercrombie was having a fine night until that point, with 19 points, while CJ Bruton again led the team from the bench with 20 as the Breakers ended up completing the comeback rather easily.
They looked to be a different side to the one that went down with a whimper in the opening game last weekend, having apparently found their form with the season-saving win in north Queensland on Thursday night.
But it didn't always look that way, with the Crocs opening up an eight point advantage in a first quarter that was eerily similar to game one. The shots were failing to fall for the Breakers, while Townsville were showing the same shooting that gave them the series lead last week.
But the Crocs cooled late in the period, and a spectacular three-point play from Abercrombie levelled the game before the Breakers took a 21-20 lead into the first intermission.
Like game two, the Breakers were struggling from deep. If they were able to convert more than two of their first 12 attempts from three, their slim lead would have swelled.
But the Breakers managed to win game three despite their woes from distance, and they managed to increase their advantage over the Crocs to two by the major break.
A worrying sign for the home side was the first half form of the Crocs' Crawford. His fortunes so far this series were entwined with Townsville's, so his 16 points in the opening half would have caused Breakers coach Andrej Lemanis a few headaches at the break.
Crawford was also finding success from deep, hitting four from six attempts, and the Crocs as a whole were shooting at more than 50 per cent from three midway through the third quarter.
That accuracy enabled them to hang with the Breakers for a while, but some dominating defence from Alex Pledger sparked the Breakers and the defending champions opened up a double digit lead - the largest of the night.
The advantage stood at 11 at the final break, with the Breakers well on their way back to the finals. And so it proved in the final period, with the lead growing as large as 19 as the Breakers celebrated their return to finals basketball.
Breakers 97 (Bruton 20, Corletto 19, Abercrombie 19)
Townsville 80 (Crawford 24, Schenscher 19, Blanchfield 12)