Basketball: Vukona plays the hero

By Kris Shannon

Mika Vukona of the Breakers reacts during the round five NBL match between the New Zealand Breakers and the Sydney Kings. Photo / Getty Images.
Mika Vukona of the Breakers reacts during the round five NBL match between the New Zealand Breakers and the Sydney Kings. Photo / Getty Images.

Breakers 79
Sydney 76

When the going gets tough, the tough get going - and no one on the Breakers' roster is tougher than Mika Vukona.

The Tall Black captain defined clutch against the Sydney Kings at the North Shore Events Centre last night, nailing a three-pointer in the corner with a second on the clock to break a tie game and hand the Breakers a 79-76 win.

Cedric Jackson looked set to repeat his final-minute heroics of two weeks ago but, instead of driving to the hoop, he found a wide-open Vukona, and the spiritual leader of the Breakers made no mistake.

Their shooting numbers continue to be atypical but one number remains familiar for the Breakers - that in the win column.

Though the couldn't quite break out of their offensive slump - though the did crack 75 points for the first time this season - the triumph moved the Breakers' record to 4-1.

Coming into the contest, the Breakers had rode a resolute rearguard to three straight wins and, if their struggles at the other end were to cease, it seemed Sydney were the perfect opposition.

The Kings, in recent years the league's cellar dwellers, did hold a winning record of their own, but the Breakers beat them up by an average of 28 points in three meeting last season.

That margin was never in play tonight, with the Breakers still struggling from the field (42 per cent) and from the line (50 per cent).

It looked to be a bad sign when the Breakers missed their first four attempts and, with their misfiring radar, the Kings closed the quarter strongly to level the score at 17.

If shooting only 33 per cent from the field wasn't bad enough, the Breakers continued to pass up easy points from the free throw line, managing only two of seven in the period.

That kind of inaccuracy enabled the Kings to take their first lead a minute into the second quarter and, with defending player of the week Ben Madgen (30 points on the night) starting to find his touch, that advantage swelled to four.

But the Breakers began to warm up and five points in as many seconds from Cedric Jackson gave the Breakers back the lead and swung the tide back in their favour.

It was 43-39 to the defending champs at the major break, with Jackson again illustrating his ability to dominate games with 16 points and three steals.

After a relatively quiet first half, Alex Pledger came to life and proceeded to run rampant under the hoop. In a seven-minute spell to open the third, Pledger contributed 11 points and five boards to help the Breakers increase their advantage to a game-high 13.

Even with Pledger's best efforts, though, Sydney had a slight edge in the rebounding battle _ no mean feat against the Breakers - and that helped the Kings to remain with seven at the final break.

It was at that stage the Breakers of seasons past began to blow teams out, but this season's side started the final quarter with another stutter and allowed Sydney to close the gap to one possession.

It was soon a tie game and, with the two sides trading baskets, it remained that way with a minute left. Sydney had their chance before Jackson and Vukona combined to seal it.

Breakers 79 (Jackson 22, Pledger 16, Corletto 12)
Sydney 76 (Madgen 30, Bruce 14, Lazare 9)
HT: 43-39

- APNZ

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