Breakers: 'The champions are here'

By Kris Shannon

The Breakers celebrate winning their third straight Australian Basketball League title. Photo / Getty Images
The Breakers celebrate winning their third straight Australian Basketball League title. Photo / Getty Images

The patrons lingering in the lobby of the Novotel in Perth didn't know what had hit them.

In the middle of a crowd of well-coiffed teenagers heading for a school ball and an inebriated gentleman quizzing anyone within ear shot about the location of the bathrooms, a sudden cacophony of noise burst through the doors.

"The champions are here!'' roared an unidentified member of the title-winning New Zealand Breakers.

Fellow guests fell silent as the victors arrived with their spoils - but keeping the locals quiet is something to which the Breakers have grown rather accustomed.

Fresh off their historic 70-66 victory over the Perth Wildcats earlier this morning, the Breakers were understandably in jubilant mood - and there were many reasons to raise their glasses:

A second straight playoff sweep which ran their record for this amazing campaign to 28 wins from 32 games. A third consecutive title to join the 2003-05 Sydney Kings in an exclusive club of winners of the Australian NBL three-peat.

The retiring Dillon Boucher farewelling the sport in typical, victorious fashion.

The Breakers were set for a long night of celebrations when this correspondent left, right around the time the pink cocktails were being brought out.

And, boy, did they deserve it. Several players had spoken before the game about winning a close-out game on the road being the final frontier for this team.

They required three games and the benefit of home advantage to secure their previous two championships and, as much as the players enjoyed celebrating in front of their own supporters, there was something special about silencing 13,500 rabid, red-clad Wildcats fans at Perth Arena.

"It was fitting for us to win one on the road and in no better place than the biggest crowd that Australia's seen for a long time,'' said CJ Bruton, who led the Breakers with 16 points as he grabbed a record-equalling sixth ANBL ring.

That crowd very nearly helped the Cats send the series back to Auckland after the home side had appeared to have used up their nine lives. When the Breakers began the third quarter on an 11-0 run, pulling away after the scores were tied at 29 at the half, it seemed as though the season was over.

But nobody told Perth, who roared back into the contest with a stirring fightback in the fourth as their adoring fans threatened to lift the roof off the new venue.

But with the Wildcats pulling within one, Cedric Jackson - later named the most valuable player of the grand finals to back up his MVP award from the regular season - drained a huge three, Alex Pledger made a massive block to earn his side a key defensive stop, and Bruton drained two clutch free throws to seal a third championship.

"The last couple minutes there were big plays,'' coach Andrej Lemanis said. "It's kind of now a bit of a blur to me. I look forward to going back and watching it.''

The first half, a scrappy, defensive affair highlighted by misses from both teams, wouldn't make for anywhere near as enjoyable viewing. But what a second half.
These two teams have been barely separable in the last few seasons - except in one area. The Breakers have now ended the Wildcats' title hopes for the third year running and, with the three-peat secured, the Breakers must now have eyes on Perth's record five championships.

"It's not about next year - we're all talking about now,'' Bruton said. "We're going to enjoy this, and when we get to that point we'll talk about that.

"But, as of now, this is a special moment for New Zealand basketball, for the Breakers, and we've just got to cherish this moment because we deserve that.''


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