Basketball: Bruton shows he's still got it

CJ Bruton of the Breakers celebrates a three pointer during game three of the NBL Grand Final series between the New Zealand Breakers and the Perth Wildcats. Photo / Getty Images
CJ Bruton of the Breakers celebrates a three pointer during game three of the NBL Grand Final series between the New Zealand Breakers and the Perth Wildcats. Photo / Getty Images

If performance was based entirely on numbers, and basketball devours statistics as much as any sport, CJ Bruton had an average season.

His points return, shooting percentage, rebounds, assists and blocks were all down and, in some cases, down considerably.

But basketball needs to be measured in more than just raw data. There were many Breakers players who did their bit to secure back-to-back ANBL titles against Perth but it is beyond question Bruton was the best. It was why he was named finals MVP.

He was cool, clever and calculated. And his two long-range efforts in the final two minutes of last night's grand final series decider were like daggers to a Perth side looking to breathe life into their own flagging title hopes.

Occasionally Bruton tried to do too much, like when he shot one bomb closer to halfway than the three-point line in game one against Perth, but he has an undying faith in his own ability and told coach Andrej Lemanis to forget about the playbook and get him the ball with only seven seconds to go to win game two in Perth.

It didn't work out on that occasion, as his shot was resoundingly blocked by Shawn Redhage, but it was a rare failure and his returns of 18, 20, 20, 20 and 16 points in his last five games against both Townsville and Perth were significant.

"I have no doubt he was the difference [between the two sides]," Perth coach Rob Beveridge said. "He stepped up.

"The guy is a going to be a hall-of-famer. The way he stepped up, I think Andrej and the medical staff did a great job of getting him through the season. He is a big-time player and there it was, he steps up, has a tremendous series and that's why he was MVP."

That seemed an improbable proposition in November when he went scoreless in three of four games. He then missed five games after it was discovered he had knee tendinitis and had also torn part of his patella. The Breakers won four of those five and questions surfaced about how much longer he could go on. He had played 438 ANBL games and it was showing.

"For me it was a blessing in disguise," the the 36-year-old said. "It gave me time to go away from the team and work on my body and work on my leg.

"For me it's about pushing. I was still hungry, I still am, and I will continue to be that way while I continue to play."

The Breakers used him intelligently when he returned - he no longer started games and played reduced minutes - as they charged their way into the playoffs. They had enough depth in their squad that they didn't need to flog Bruton and he picked his moments when to make telling contributions.

They didn't always come on the court. Bruton is a big presence at the club and, although he often talks in what seems a random collection of thoughts, his teammates listen. He was the chief architect of a plan to suspend BJ Anthony for 10 days after the young forward turned up to training badly hungover and demands excellence at training.

Last night's title was his fifth championship ring and his second with the Breakers. Given the talent the North Shore-based club have assembled, it's not unreasonable to suggest he could add at least another in his two remaining years with the club.

"He has got iced water running through his veins," Breakers import Gary Wilkinson said. "Taking big shots, he has got so much confidence that stems from a place... I don't know where that comes from.

"He is just a great guy on and off the court. He cares about people. There is no one more deserving for what he has done and the leadership he has shown on and off the court."

Statistics won't tell you that.

- additional reporting NZ Herald

- APNZ

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