Basketball: Breakers humbled in season opener

By Michael Brown

Mika Vukona of the Breakers competes with Shawn Redhage of the Wildcats during the round one NBL match between the New Zealand Breakers and the Perth Wildcats. Photo / Getty Images.
Mika Vukona of the Breakers competes with Shawn Redhage of the Wildcats during the round one NBL match between the New Zealand Breakers and the Perth Wildcats. Photo / Getty Images.

Breakers 72
Perth 93

The Breakers are intent on creating more history this season as they chase a three-peat but they claimed an unwanted record tonight when they became the first defending champions in a decade to lose their first game at home.

The Breakers didn't just lose, however, they were humbled by their arch enemies.

Things started off well enough as they established an early 18-12 lead but that was when it all went wrong. They were on the wrong end of a horrible 20-2 run that left them trailing 32-20 and, to make matters worse, soon allowed Perth to score 20-unanswered points to establish a 52-27 lead.

"We played like we were running in mud at stages,'' coach Andrej Lemanis said.

"They played with much better desire and hunger. In the first half our defensive energy and effort weren't where they need to be.''

They managed only 34 points in the opening half and, given the offensive threats on the roster, it was a paltry return.

In contrast, Perth scored almost at will.

They made intelligent cuts to the basket, found the open man and hustled well on defence as the likes of Kevin Lisch, Matt Knight and Shawn Redhage went to work.

It put pressure on the Breakers who committed too many turnovers, missed shots they might normally be expected to make and were out-rebounded at both ends of the court.

It was ugly whatever way they looked at it. It wasn't supposed to be like this. The night opened in celebration as their unfurled their second straight ANBL title in front of a sold out North Shore Events Centre.

The Perth players gathered in a tight huddle during the banner ceremony and refused to watch. It was something they came close to winning last year during an epic grand final series and they had clearly come to Auckland tonight to make a statement.

"I didn't expect that [kind of result],'' Perth coach Rob Beveridge said.

"Obviously it was an emotional night with the raising of the banner. It was good for us to be here to see that because it makes us hungrier.''

It will also serve as a salient lesson that nothing will come to the Breakers without hard work. They are still a good team but can't assume success will come.

"I personally think there's nothing to worry about,'' veteran forward Dillon Boucher said.

"We are not ringing the alarm bells yet. We have great confidence in this group.

"Perth are a good ball club and if you go to sleep on them, they make you pay.''

The Breakers were better in the second half, as they lifted the intensity and treasured possession more but, by then, the damage had been done.

The Breakers had talked during the pre-season about how they would play more of an inside game as they gave centre Alex Pledger more game time. Significantly, however, Pledger spent most of the second half on the pine as he watched his smaller teammates attempt to haul their side back into the match.

His influence was negligible _ he didn't pull down a single rebound even though he was the biggest man on court _ and he still needs to learn how to use his considerable size more effectively.

New recruit Will Hudson brought intensity and a presence on the boards but he doesn't possess the scoring threat of the man he replaced, Gary Wilkinson. How much they miss Wilkinson, who could usually be relied on in times of crisis, will play out over the coming weeks.

His former teammates will need to be a lot better if they are to go on and create the history they want.

Breakers 72 (Cedric Jackson 19, Daryl Corletto 10)

Perth 93 (Kevin Lisch 20, Matt Knight 20, Shawn Redhage 16). HT: 34-54

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_n4 at 30 Jul 2014 07:56:11 Processing Time: 16ms