Basketball: Breakers find their new hero

By Dana Johannsen

Kevin Braswell during the round two NBL match between the Breakers and the Perth Wildcats at North Shore Events Centre. Photo / Getty Images
Kevin Braswell during the round two NBL match between the Breakers and the Perth Wildcats at North Shore Events Centre. Photo / Getty Images

The Breakers continue to give hope there is life after Kirk Penney, opening their Australian NBL season at home with a heart-stopping win over the defending champion Perth Wildcats.

The Breakers got their season away to a flier last weekend upsetting the newly-returned Sydney Kings across the Tasman. But it is at home where the Breakers are really hoping to make an impression as they look to re-establish the North Shore Events Centre as their fortress.

And they certainly drew on the energy of the home crowd last night, relying on their vocal support to get them over the line in a tight and physical tussle.

Down by 10 late in the third quarter, one unimpressed section of the crowd began to chant "we want Kirk".

But in the absence of their star guard, who is chasing his NBA dream in the US, the Breakers found a new hero. Import Kevin Braswell stepped up to play a starring role in the final quarter, scoring back-to-back threes to level up the score mid-way through the period.

With a sniff of victory the Breakers ramped up the intensity in the closing minutes, coming up with a couple of big defensive plays to secure the win.

The home side have made no secret of their intentions of playing an aggressive, in-your-face style of defence this season - much like that employed by the reigning champion Wildcats.

The result being an intensely physical match, featuring some close body-checking and forceful marking.

The battle between Mika Vukona and former Breaker Shawn Redhage, who always seems to raise the hackles of the New Zealand side, was particularly absorbing.

Little separated the two sides in the opening minutes, with score close for much of the opening period.

But it seemed as though the Breakers had to battle for their early baskets, while they flowed freely down the other end.

Down 23-33 at the first break, the home side quickly set about arresting that deficit early in the second period, opening the quarter with a 6-0 run to get the scoreline back to a more respectable four points.

They then seized the initiative mid-way through the quarter, when Brad Robbin's unsportsmanlike foul on Breakers swingman Leon Henry allowed the home side to draw within one of the Wildcats from the resulting free throws. The Breakers then took a 44-43 lead on the subsequent possession.

After competing so strongly for most of the third period, a lapse in concentration in the final minute before the break proved costly for the Breakers, with the Wildcats scoring three quick baskets to take a 55-49 lead at halftime.

The momentum stayed with the visitors in the third period as they opened up a 10-point advantage in the first minute.

To make matters worse for the Breakers, Vukona, one of their top contributors in the first half with seven points and four rebounds, got himself in to early foul trouble, picking up his fourth personal two minutes in to the third quarter, earning him an enforced spell on the bench.

The Breakers continued to hustle strongly on defence. A heated exchange between Gary Wilkinson and Wildcats forward Jesse Wagstaff brought the crowd back in to the match, as an arm wrestle for a rebound nearly turned in to an all-out brawl on the floor.

Still, for all their big plays on defence, the Breakers were struggling to get on a roll offensively, and by the three quarter mark the Wildcats had a handy 78-70 lead heading in to the final period.

Breakers 96
Perth 94

- NZ Herald

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