Basketball: Breakers barely make it 14 straight

By Kris Shannon

Tom Abercrombie of the Breakers hangs on the hoop. Photo / Getty Images
Tom Abercrombie of the Breakers hangs on the hoop. Photo / Getty Images

The Breakers' winning streak now sits at 14 and it's doubtful if any of the preceding victories were as hard to come by as tonight's.

The defending champions trailed for much of the game against an upstart Cairns outfit at the North Shore Events Centre, before taking one more giant leap towards a third straight minor premiership.

The Breakers (22-3) now need just one more win from their remaining three games to clinch that prize and, more importantly, home court advantage throughout the playoffs.

But it wasn't easy, with Cairns (9-15) backing up last weekend's upset over Perth by coming agonisingly close to turning over the two-time champions.

The Breakers were still behind heading into the final 30 seconds before Cedric Jackson did what Cedric Jackson does _ grabbing the ball, taking ownership of the possession and driving to the hoop to make to go-ahead floater.

"Sometimes it's amazing how you get what you ask for,'' coach Andrej Lemanis said "I was speaking during the week to [owner] Paul Blackwell, saying it's been awhile since we've been in the fourth quarter down six and it would be nice to have to go through that situation before we get to the playoffs.''

Such a scenario hardly seemed on the cards coming into the contest. Before tonight Cairns' last win in New Zealand came in 2008, a game in which only two current Breakers (Dillon Boucher and CJ Bruton) suited up.

The Breakers had taken 12 of their last 16 against the Taipans, but they never quite clicked into top gear tonight.

The offence was in all sorts in the first half, they failed to make the deep ball (two from 13) and they were constantly at odds with some questionable officiating.

They were not helped by the absence of Bruton, either. After playing six minutes in the first quarter, the veteran went unseen for the remainder of the game after suffering from an inner ear infection.

Alex Pledger was one bright spot, picking his 100th game with the club to amass a season-high 20 points, while Jackson finished with 17 points, nine rebounds, seven assists and six steals.

"At the end of the day, we did it with guts,'' Lemanis said. "It was one of those nights where we didn't shoot it well, we surprisingly got out-rebounded, and yet we still found a way to win.''

The Breakers appeared slightly off-key early, giving the impression it was them, not the visitors, who were caught in traffic and caused the tip-off to be delayed by 15 minutes. The home side went to sleep after snatching an early lead, allowing the Taipans to make an 11-1 run and take a three-point advantage into the first break.

Quarter-time failed to wake up the Breakers but Cairns' offence was struggling just as much, with neither side cracking 40 in points or shooting percentage by halftime.
The Breakers managed only one three-pointer in the first half and that, from Corey Webster with more than three minutes left, was their last field goal as Cairns maintained a slim lead heading into the major break.

These two teams did come into the clash with a precedent for tight, low-scoring affairs, with their last meeting on New Year's Eve resulting in a 66-61 win for the defending champs. But a third quarter in which both sides busted out of their slumps ensured there was never going to be a repeat.

As he has been so often this season, Jackson was the catalyst for the Breakers. The ANBL player of the month for February had only one point at the half before pouring in 12 in the third, but his side still trailed by four heading into the final period.

Slowly but steadily, the Breakers reduced that deficit, with some key steals followed by Jackson's magic before a pair of free-throws from Tom Abercrombie iced it.

Breakers 80 (Pledger 20, Jackson 17, Abercrombie 15)
Cairns 77 (Gliddon 15, Wilson 15, Loughton 12)
HT: 36-39

- APNZ

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