They did it the hard way but the Breakers kept their Australian NBL championship defence alive, overcoming Townsville Crocs 97-80 at Vector Arena last night.
With their season on the line, the titleholders completed their comeback from the edge of the precipice with a performance that reached sublime heights. Veteran guard CJ Bruton turned back the clock to steer the Breakers clear with a 20-point haul that included key buckets at crucial times. Forward Tom Abercrombie and guard Daryl Corletto had 19 points apiece.
As they had in their Game One defeat, the hosts again conceded the early running, gifting their opponents a succession of turnovers and six straight points through their indecision. They also suffered a blow as American Cedric Jackson headed to the bench with two quick fouls.
But an eight-point run saw them draw even and then sneak ahead 21-20 with a Dillon Boucher basket to end the first period. Townsville struck from distance as the game resumed and they threatened to draw away once more.
The champions lifted defensively and swung momentum back their way with a 10-point run - but the pinpoint sniping of Peter Crawford kept the Crocs in the contest and another from Michael Cedar on the stroke of halftime had them trailing only 42-44.
Both sides continued to wrestle for the upper hand and the Breakers gained it with a 13-2 run, highlighted by a long three-pointer from CJ Bruton. When super sub Leon Henry hit a pair of treys, they had their tails up and were cruising 73-62.
When they forced a shot-clock violation and sent Jackson away for a lay-up to start the final period, a comeback seemed beyond Townsville. It got even harder when American Elvin Mims fouled out and Bruton was fouled attempting a three.
The game ended on a note of concern for the Breakers, though, as Abercrombie hobbled off the court with an ankle injury suffered when Crawford, who finished with 24 points, smashed him to the court.
As they had 12 months ago, the Auckland-based club made their road to the final more treacherous than it needed to be, dropping the opening game of their semifinal series at home to the competition's fourth-ranked team.
And just like their 2011 match-up against Perth, the Breakers had to overcome injury to one of their leading players - then, it was Mika Vukona and this time, Jackson - but produced the goods on the road in a hostile gym to steal momentum from their opponents.
By now, they will know their opponents in the championship series. Late last night, Perth Wildcats hosted the Gold Coast Blaze in the deciding game of the other semifinal series.
The Breakers have fallen to both teams on the road this season, although the loss to the Blaze came in a final regular-season fixture with nothing to gain and their leading players in street clothes.
The rivalry between the two farthest-flung teams - the Breakers and Wildcats - has become a special feature of the Australian league in recent years and the challenge posed by travel itineraries could add another twist as this season reaches its climax.
The finals will begin at Vector Arena on Thursday.By Grant Chapman