Basketball: Breakers sweep way into finals

By Kris Shannon

Three-peat on as NZ side get ready to face old foes the Wildcats.

The Breakers are in the NBL Grand Final. Photo / Getty Images.
The Breakers are in the NBL Grand Final. Photo / Getty Images.

Breakers 99
Kings 88

With the formality of the regular season followed by a semifinal series sweep, all that separates the Breakers from further history is their great rivals, Perth.

The two-time defending champions yesterday ticked another box on their search for a famous three-peat of Australian NBL titles, beating Sydney to qualify for another grand final.

Awaiting them at Vector Arena on Sunday afternoon will be the Perth Wildcats. Who else could it have been?

The two teams have been on a collision course from the moment the Wildcats crashed the Breakers' championship banner-raising party with a 21-point hiding in the opening game of the season.

The pair pulled away from the rest of the Australian NBL field and, while the Breakers emerged on top with a 24-4 record, Perth added two more comprehensive victories over the champions. The last of their trio of wins also busted the Breakers' 16-game win streak, with the men from Western Australia seemingly intent on grabbing revenge for last year's spiteful grand final loss.

Perth, the most successful team in league history, will also be desperate to prevent the Breakers from achieving something they have never managed. Only one team, the Sydney Kings of 2003-05, have earned a hat-trick of titles, leaving the Breakers just two wins away from joining an exclusive club.

Another intriguing sub-plot will come from the sidelines, where Andrej Lemanis and Rob Beveridge will renew hostilities. With the coaches the two favourites to earn the vacant Australian Boomers job, one man may be in for a good month.

Lemanis was at pains last week to avoid prognosticating about a potential Perth series, preferring to focus on the task at hand. But, with that task now complete, assistant coach Dean Vickerman admitted the team's attention immediately turned to the impending showdown.

"We're already talking about what day the game is and when the series is, so the team has certainly switched pretty quickly," he said. "We've tried so hard over the last week or so not to talk about playing them and now we get finally a chance to talk about it.

"We both deserve to be there, as we showed in the semifinal series. They're a tough team, and in finals time we've always got up and played well against them. So we look forward to the challenge."

The Breakers have ended Perth's last two playoff runs and that fact, along with the home court advantage they earned with the minor premiership, will probably make the defending champions slight favourites to repeat.

Perth's prospects will also suffer a serious blow if influential guard Damian Martin is unable to shake off the calf injury he received in the Wildcats' win over Wollongong at the weekend. Beveridge yesterday said Martin wasn't looking good, but the Breakers will know to take that message with a handful of salt.

The week of preparation - and the three games being spread over 12 days - will improve Martin's chances but will also allow the Breakers' excitement to grow. Vickerman said the players were rather reserved after sweeping Sydney, a product of both their past success and anticipation over the season's climax.

"It's certainly a different atmosphere in our locker room tonight than it has been the last couple of years. Obviously, there's no surprise about us getting here and everyone's pretty laid back about it. The excitement will build up as the days go along, but we expected to be here."

The Breakers completed that expectation yesterday after a huge third quarter. Coming on the back of Thursday's 17-point victory in game one, the semifinal sweep is the Breakers' first in franchise history.

Their next task is one with which they are a bit more familiar.

Grand final series
Game one: Sunday, April 7, 4pm, Vector Arena
Game two: Friday, April 12, 7.30pm, Perth Arena
Game three*: Thursday, April 18, 7.30pm, Vector Arena

*If required.

- APNZ

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