Basketball: Breakers doing it the hard way

By Kris Shannon

Gary Wilkinson of the Breakers looks to drive past Jesse Wagstaff of the Wildcats during game two of the NBL Grand Final series. Photo / Getty Images
Gary Wilkinson of the Breakers looks to drive past Jesse Wagstaff of the Wildcats during game two of the NBL Grand Final series. Photo / Getty Images

Maybe they prefer celebrating at home, maybe they have a flair for drama - whatever the reason, the New Zealand Breakers continue to do things the hard way.

Friday night's agonising one-point loss in Perth, which sent the Australian NBL grand final series back to Auckland for a deciding game on Tuesday night, only continues a trend for the club.

In their last two seasons of success the Breakers' four playoffs series have all gone the maximum length, with the team seemingly determined to keep fans stimulated rather than settling for a sweep.

Last year, the Breakers had a chance to clinch their maiden title in Cairns but lost in double overtime. They looked set to repeat as champions this year after controlling game two in Perth, before losing the lead, and the game, in the final minute.

Breakers forward Gary Wilkinson revealed the team were experiencing deja vu following the 87-86 loss, but the experience of being in this situation before would help them recuperate for the decider.

"We had kind of the same feeling [as after the Cairns loss]," he said. "You can't have it in your head for too long, we have another game to play.

"Obviously, we're disappointed. I was pumped up, I was ready to go in there and cut down the nets in Perth but it didn't happen, so we'll just go do it in Auckland."

The disappointment is understandable. Leading by five with four minutes left in a game, a second straight ring looked to be on the cards for the Breakers, but a 6-0 Perth run put paid to that.

Wilkinson said that manner of defeat only made the Breakers hungrier for game three.

"The desire to win is just fuelled that much more. To come back in front of a home crowd, there will be no lack of motivation.

"I think we have a lot of guys who are ready to step up and get the job done."

Breakers coach Andrej Lemanis agreed with the American, and said he would have no problem getting his players past game two and prepared for the last game of the season.

"That's been a strength of ourselves over the last two years - our ability to just ride the highs and lows of the season and keep moving forward.

"There's nothing we can do about [Friday] night, and our focus is clearly on what we need to do on Tuesday night. There's a real positive vibe about and everyone's looking forward to the game."

Aside from improving their turnover count (21) and limiting the Wildcats' offensive rebounding (15), Lemanis thought the Breakers would do little different to what had them in a position to win in Perth.

"Really, the gameplan's going to be the same [and] I think we'll take a lot of confidence into the game. We didn't play as well as we can play and we're just looking forward to getting home now and playing another good game."

That home advantage, awarded to the holders of the league's best record during the regular season, may be the factor which eventually separates these great rivals.The game sold out in two hours and Wilkinson thought the 9200 fans who would pack Vector Arena could make a vital difference.

"Having the crowd behind us - and I'll do all I can to get them involved - is definitely a huge bonus for us."

Lemanis confirmed Tom Abercrombie came through his 27 minutes of court time at Challenge Stadium without sustaining further damage to his ankle, and the Breakers had suffered no new ailments before Tuesday's showdown.

- APNZ

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