Basketball: Bruton fails to find his happy ending

By Kris Shannon

CJ Bruton of the Breakers. Photo / Getty Images
CJ Bruton of the Breakers. Photo / Getty Images

With mere seconds on the clock, the Breakers down by one and the ball in CJ Bruton's hands, the ANBL grand final series was approaching a fitting conclusion last night.

The Breakers and the Perth Wildcats were nearing the end of another epic battle but, like the first, it looked like the New Zealand side would emerge triumphant.

The imminent victory would clinch a series sweep for the Breakers, and seal their second straight championship. It would also be a fifth ring for Bruton, the clutch veteran who propelled the Breakers to an overtime victory in game one last week.

The 36-year-old, who made his debut for Perth, was one shot away from ending the season in front of the gaze of his father and ANBL hall of famer Cal. Bruton beat his man off the dribble and approached the hoop but, then, a funny thing happened. Instead of his short range jumper finding nothing but net, it found nothing but the imposing hand of Shawn Redhage.

The game ended, Perth rejoiced and the series headed back to Auckland for Tuesday night's deciding game three.

"When he had the ball at the end of the game, I thought to myself, I don't know how more perfect this can be - for CJ to have the opportunity to go and shoot that and win on his home court,'' Breakers forward Gary Wilkinson said. "He's the best closer in the game. That's what he does - he's got ice water running through his veins.''

Perth's 87-86 win sets up a fitting finale to what is shaping as one of the all-time classic grand final series. That these two great rivals could not be separated in two games should surprise no one.

"It's another hell of a game,'' Breakers coach Andrej Lemanis said. "It's been an unbelievable series and fun to be a part of. Stuff happens in sport, and that's why people love it and enjoy it and come along - you're never quite sure what you're going to see.

"Big swings in scores and momentum and two teams playing hard - what could be better for basketball than what's going on right now? What a beautiful showcase this is for the NBL.''

Although, it is doubtful too many of the Breakers will see the beauty in last night's loss, in which they controlled the contest for much of proceedings and led by five with under four minutes left.

But a six-point run for Perth came at the perfect time and culminated with one of the strangest game-winning baskets imaginable, as Matt Knight's attempted shot deflected off Wilkinson and through the hoop.

"I've never ever seen that happen to win a basketball game,'' Wilkinson said. "It's a bitter pill to swallow. I think we had it wrapped up, we were up heading into the fourth quarter and we just let that lead slip away.''

Lemanis, too, struggled to recall a game ending in a similar fashion.

"It was a unique way for them to score their go-ahead basket. [Wilkinson] saw the irony of it it. We were sitting there in the locker room afterwards and he had a bit of a smirk on his face.''

The coach said he would have no problems ensuring his troops overcame the emotions surrounding the loss, describing the ability to "ride the highs and lows of the season and keep moving forward'' as a strength of his side.

And if game three comes down to the final play, Wilkinson left no doubt who would assume responsibility.

"If the same thing happens again, the ball will be in CJ's hands.''

- APNZ

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