The New Zealand Breakers qualified for the third successive Australian NBL grand final after sweeping Sydney today, setting up a long-awaited rematch with great rivals Perth.
The Breakers initially looked in trouble against a desperate Kings side at the Sydney Entertainment Centre, but the two-time defending champions flipped the switch in a huge third quarter to pull away and eventually seal a 99-88 victory.
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, beginning Sunday afternoon at Vector Arena, is one with which they have a bit more familiarity.
The Breakers have ended Perth's last two seasons, in an epic 2-1 grand final win in 2012 and in an equally-charged semifinal series the previous year. Perth were the only team capable of staying within touching distance of the Breakers' incredible 24-4 regular season record in this campaign, and the Wildcats did hand the Breakers three of their four defeats.
But the way the Breakers soaked up everything Sydney threw at them before unleashing an offensive outburst of their own today does bode well for their chances of becoming just the second side to seal an ANBL three-peat.
The Kings looked intent on sending the series back to Auckland for a deciding third game, holding a nine-point lead midway through the third quarter. But just six minutes later they trailed by 10, with the game, and their season, virtually over by the final period.
Alex Pledger led the Breakers with a big double-double (18 points and 12 rebounds) while CJ Bruton did what he does at this time of year, making several key baskets in a 21-point haul.
The Breakers now have a week to prepare for another inevitably wild battle against the Wildcats. Perth, who completed a sweep of their own over Wollongong yesterday, will hope the extended gap will allow influential guard Damian Martin to return from a calf injury.
The Breakers may also need time to recover from the first-half scare provided by Sydney today. After James Harvey nailed a buzzer-beating three to hand the Kings a 26-33 lead at the opening break, Sydney resumed the second quarter on a scoring spree and an 8-0 run midway through the period saw their lead swell to 10.
Some solid play at both ends of the floor from Pledger then helped the Breakers embark on an 8-1 run of their own and pull within three, but the home side extended their advantage to six at the major break. The Breakers were holding their own in most halftime statistical categories and the deficit owed as much to Sydney's success from deep (six of eight) as it did to any perceived problems in the defending champions' play.
Potentially 20 minutes away from elimination, Sydney came out for the second half scrapping for their playoff lives, diving for loose balls and flying about recklessly for rebounds. But the Breakers didn't establish their best road record (11-3) by wilting in the face of such intensity and 10 straight points gave the visitors their first lead since the opening quarter.
Sensing blood, postseason assassin Bruton then nailed three straight buckets and, after Corey Webster's triple beat the buzzer, the Breakers took a 10-point lead into the final quarter.
The frantic finish to the third appeared to crush the Kings' spirits and the Breakers never looked like letting their lead slip in the fourth, setting up a Perth rematch most have been waiting for.
Sydney 88 (Madgen 29, Harvey 25, Crosswhite 11)
Breakers 99 (Bruton 21, Pledger 18, Abercrombie 17)