Breakers 81 Kings 64
If the Breakers managed to win two titles after dropping their playoff-opener, the sky must be the limit after they smashed Sydney in game one of their semifinal series last night.
The two-time defending champions led from wire to wire at Vector Arena and eventually ran out 81-64 winners to put one firm foot in the grand final.
Game two is in Sydney on Easter Monday and, after last night's events, the Kings have a lot of work to do if they want to send the series back to New Zealand for a deciding third game.
All four of the Breakers' playoff series the last two seasons have gone the distance, and twice before they have crossed the Tasman facing elimination after a flat performance in semifinal openers. But those trends never looked like continuing last night.
"I'd certainly much rather be in this position,'' said Tom Abercrombie, who led the team with 15 second-half points. "We're in control now, which is good, but we can't take our foot off at all.''
Sydney may have played the Breakers tough all season _ losing twice on the last shot and handing the Breakers one of their four defeats - but this encounter was one-way traffic from the tip.
The game was tied for only the first 30 seconds, after which the Breakers established control and never looked back. Sydney could only reduce the deficit to single figures once in the second half, and early in the fourth the gap was already insurmountable.
Proceedings on the court were matched by a subdued crowd of 8300 at Vector Arena - 1000 short of capacity - with many fans forgiven for casting an eye towards a probable date with Perth.
The Breakers won't yet. They know the have lost in Sydney this season and won once only after overtime, and Abercrombie was predicting another tough affair.
"We'll be going over to their place on Monday and they're going to be throwing everything at us, so we've got to take it up another level and raise the intensity,'' he said.
"While it was great to start on the right foot tonight, it's only a job half done.''
The Kings will have to find a way of shutting down league MVP Cedric Jackson if they want to prevent the Breakers from completing that job. He produced a typical line of 11 points, nine rebounds, six assists and three steals, while Alex Pledger came close to a double-double (eight points and nine boards) and surpassed the franchise's single-season block record with his 41st rejection.
Pledger began how he intended to continue, denying the Kings their first points of the game, while Jackson also set the tone with his harassment causing early mistakes in the Sydney back court.
When Leon Henry blocked a potential buzzer-beater, a promising first period ended with the Breakers up by five. And that promise quickly translated to a double-digit lead, with Corey Webster heating up to grab six quick points and Jackson exploding to the rim for one vicious dunk.
Not much was going wrong for the Breakers, who saw Will Hudson return after six weeks on the sidelines, but the same couldn't be said of Sydney, especially after Ben Madgen was whistled for an unsportsmanlike foul on Jackson.
Although the Breakers' 11-point advantage at halftime was a fair reflection of their superiority, the defending champions were barely outshooting Sydney and the rebounding battle was even. The main difference was found in foul shots, with the Breakers making 15 compared to the Kings' three.
Sydney actually started the second half stronger as the Breakers came out a little cold, but the visitors were unable to reduce the gap. In fact, the closest the Kings got was within nine, and after back-to-back Tom Abercrombie triples late in the quarter his side's lead was back out to 16.
The fourth was more of the same and, after Sydney experienced the ignominy of the Breakers trotting out their development players, this series looks headed in only one direction.
Breakers 81 (Abercrombie 15, Corletto 12, Jackson 11)
Sydney 64 (Madgen 15, Harvey 10, Garlepp 9)