Basketball: Breakers blow up at cheap shot Cats

By Steve Deane

NZ Breakers guard CJ Bruton. Photo / Brett Phibbs
NZ Breakers guard CJ Bruton. Photo / Brett Phibbs

They hated each other before Perth's thrilling game-two victory on Friday night - but the level of loathing between the Breakers and Wildcats has hit new heights ahead of tonight's grand final series decider at Vector Arena in Auckland.

According to the Wildcats, the Breakers are a bunch of arrogant braggarts prone to over-celebrating. The Breakers, meanwhile, see the Wildcats as hypocritical, dirty and underhand.

The contention from most of the participants that none of this animosity is personal is getting harder to believe.

Even typically stone-faced Breakers coach Andrej Lemanis added to the charged atmosphere, saying he would not instruct his players to turn the other cheek in the face of continued cheap shots from the Wildcats.

Lemanis said his players would need to be smart in how they channelled what seems to be a widespread sense of fury, but added: "If we are getting cheap-shotted we are not just going to accept it either."

Coming from Lemanis, that's near enough to a declaration of war.

There's no doubt the Breakers were infuriated by what they perceived as roughhouse Wildcats tactics that went largely unpunished in game two. No surprise the finger was mostly pointed at former Breaker Shawn Redhage.

"When you go through the tape there was a few off-the-ball incidents you'd suggest would be not in the realms of normal basketball," was how Lemanis put it.

With Redhage having been forthright in his criticism of the way the Breakers celebrated their game-one win, the Breakers were a mixture of bemused and offended by the American's crowd-diving antics after blocking CJ Bruton's last-second shot to secure Friday's one-point victory.

"They showed they were just being hypocritical by criticising us," veteran forward Dillon Boucher said. "I've never seen a team celebrate as much when it was just game two."

The final plank of the Breakers' displeasure was the Wildcats' fondness for flopping - simulating heavy contact in order to draw a foul call. Perth forward Jesse Wagstaff was a major offender in an area deemed as unpalatable as diving in the box in soccer.

"[League officials] talked about cutting down the flopping and said it is a tech foul if you are deemed to be flopping," Breakers forward Gary Wilkinson said. "Surely they've got to have watched the tape and seen that [Wagstaff] wasn't legitimately hitting the ground every time? He did it more than once so hopefully they are on to it."

While an element of the Breakers' spiel is most certainly designed to place pressure on the match officials, the club does have reason to feel aggrieved. Twice in the frantic final seconds in Perth bizarre decisions had a negative impact on the Breakers. They were denied two clear fast break opportunities, first by a poorly timed call to wipe down the court and then by an inadvertent whistle blow.

While a basket from either of those plays might have resulted in a Breakers win, Boucher was keen to play down the impact of the errant calls.

"Part of being a professional is getting over that and putting yourself in a situation where those little things can't be a factor in a game," he said.

No stranger himself to the game's darker arts, Boucher also insisted he wasn't out for revenge after copping a fair bit of treatment in game two.

"To be honest, I've got enough motivation wanting to win this championship. I am not going to worry about being cheap-shotted or I would be complaining every game. To me it is about going out and winning the game. Tell you what, that cheap shot won't mean nothing when we are cutting the net down."

Point guard Cedric Jackson supplied another injury scare by rolling his troublesome ankle in yesterday's final practice session. However, Lemanis played down the severity of that situation.

"There's nothing I can do about it now," he said. "He'll go to the physio and what happens happens."

Given the winner-takes-all nature of the contest, it's hard to imagine Jackson not playing. If he doesn't, Bruton will takeover the primary point guard role.

He may have let slip one chance to ice a second consecutive championship for the club but Bruton said he would still be demanding the ball if the game was again on the line in the final seconds tonight.

"Why not? I'm not going to change who I am or what I do."

BREAKERS V PERTH

Vector Arena, 7.30 tonight.

- NZ Herald

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