Breakers claim historic third ANBL title

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

Two playoff sweeps plus three straight championships equals one historic dynasty for the New Zealand Breakers.

The two-time defending champions became only the second side in the Australian NBL to win three titles in a row, beating the Wildcats 70-66 in a thrilling encounter at Perth Arena early this morning.

Predictions of a tight tussle between these two titans were proven correct, with just one point separating the sides with 18 seconds on the clock. At that point, having fought back from an 11-point deficit heading into the final quarter, the sprawling Red Army looked to have roared on their side to send the series back to Auckland for a decider.
But CJ Bruton, as he has done so often before, clinched the game with two clutch free throws to spark jubilant celebrations among owners Paul and Liz Blackwell, general manager Richard Clarke and a small but passionate set of Kiwi supporters.

The victory seals the Breakers' place in the competition record books and means Dillon Boucher will head into retirement with his 13th championship in Australasian basketball.

Boucher may not be the only Breaker to have pulled on the singlet for the last time. Point guard Cedric Jackson, the league's most valuable player, is destined for bigger and better things, while coach Andrej Lemanis may very well have earned the Australian Boomers job by besting rival Rob Beveridge.

If this Breakers group is broken up, it will be remembered as one of the most dominant teams New Zealand sport has seen. The Breakers won a club-record 16 consecutive games this season en route to a 24-4 regular season record, before sweeping Sydney and Perth to put an exclamation point on an amazing campaign.

For the third straight year the Breakers beat Perth in the postseason and, having clinched a close-out game on the road for the first time, there is little left to prove.

After joining the 2003-05 Sydney Kings in securing a three-peat of titles, the next mark for the Breakers to challenge is Perth's record of five championships. Their great rivals will undoubtedly have something to say about that but the sky seems the limit for the North Shore club.

The Breakers sent 13,500 rabid red-clad Wildcats fans off into the night with a bitter taste in their mouths, backing up their 12-point victory in game one in Auckland with a huge defensive effort in a heart-stopping final period.

There was a succession of huge plays in the waning minutes as the Breakers clung to their lead. Cedric Jackson - later named the most valuable player of the grand final series - made a massive triple down the stretch, Alex Pledger capped his first season as a starter with a key block, before Bruton did what he does at this of year.

The veteran drained four three-pointers to lead the Breakers with 16 points, clinching his sixth ANBL ring in the city where he grew up, while Jackson scored his 14 all in the second half.

Daryl Corletto added 11 to his 19 from game one to become the fifth player in league history to win multiple titles on two different teams, while Pledger added eight points and seven rebounds to get the better of nemesis Matt Knight.

Coming into the contest, the Wildcats had won 14 straight games in their home gym by an average of 19 points. The Breakers had won just three times in Perth in franchise history and they had dropped two games in Western Australia this season by a combined 40 points.

But the Breakers began in a completely different fashion to those prior encounters, taking a one-point lead from a cagey opening quarter. Neither offence found its rhythm but, considering the emphasis the Breakers placed on preventing a fast start from Perth, the visitors would've been the happier side.

The Breakers came out cold in the second, though, scoring just two points in five minutes and repeatedly missing from beyond the arc to allow the Wildcats to jump out to a five-point lead.

Points continued to remain at a premium for the remainder of the quarter and, when Tom Abercrombie finished off a lob pass from Jackson, the teams went to the major break tied at 29.

Two things happened to start the second half _ Corletto and Kevin Lisch clashed twice to draw unsportsmanlike fouls, and Perth stopped scoring. The Breakers poured in the opening 11 points as the Wildcats were wayward for five minutes and, although Perth eventually came out of their slump, the lead was in double digits heading to the fourth. But, with the Breakers having one hand on the trophy, the Cats kicked off the final period with a hiss and a roar to pull within two.

Every possession began to take on a massive magnitude, and a Breakers' huddle in a late timeout was accompanied by the unusual sight of the Wildcats cheerleaders surrounding them in a circle while performing a routine.

Those tactics failed to faze the defending champions and they barely held their nerve, leaving Boucher to hurl the ball high in the air to bring to curtain down on his glittering career.

Breakers 70 (Bruton 16, Jackson 14, Corletto 11)
Perth 66 (Lisch 14, Redhage 14, Wagstaff 10)

- APNZ

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