Basketball: Vital victory puts Breakers on course for tough matches ahead

By Kris Shannon

Tom Abercrombie shoots over Oscar Forman of the Hawks. Photo / Getty Images
Tom Abercrombie shoots over Oscar Forman of the Hawks. Photo / Getty Images

Breakers 106
Hawks 101

The Breakers began a crucial stretch in the season in the best possible fashion last night, dispatching the Wollongong Hawks for a vital victory.

After splitting a four-game road swing over the holiday season, the Breakers revelled in home comforts to claw out a win as nail-biting as it was needed.

The next fortnight should determine whether the champs' title defence will lie in tatters or whether they will live to fight another day, with tonight the start of three pivotal fixtures.

Sydney will visit Vector Arena next Thursday before the Breakers head to the Kings the following week - a double-header which must be swept if the Breakers are to sneak in the back door of the playoffs.

The Kings' fourth spot may be the only finals berth realistically available to the defending champions and last night's win over Wollongong set the stage for the pair of must-win games against the side they knocked out of last season's semifinals.

Still sitting in the bottom half of the table with a 7-11 record, the Breakers at least showed they possessed the tenacity needed for the fight to follow.

It was never easy against a Hawks (6-11) team the Breakers beat twice earlier in the campaign, with the margin in single figures for much of the contest and some clutch shooting required to end up in front.

That was rather appropriate considering the Breakers made 56 per cent from the floor throughout the contest and drained a phenomenal 15 of 26 attempts from beyond the arc. Those 15 were split evenly between five players, as Kerron Johnson led the way and finished with 21 points.

"It was really pleasing to see him shoot the three ball,'' said coach Dean Vickerman. "It was something that we always felt was in there and he showed it in preseason a little bit.

"Coming out and making the three threes...I was really pleased with his contribution.''

Gary Wilkinson (20) and Tom Abercrombie (20) weren't far behind, while commentator Casey Frank continued his comeback in place of Alex Pledger, recording six points, five boards and three assists.

Vickerman felt the offensive outburst was needed to deal with the Hawks' deep-lying defence, while a balanced approach also came to the Breakers' aid.

"We were in a mindset that we had to continue to attack them, so we wouldn't fall asleep with their hang-back defence,'' he said. "I thought we were really good at that - our balance of shooting threes, attacking the paint, getting to the foul line.''

After trailing for much of the opening quarter, the Breakers eventually grabbed a four-point advantage at the first break. That advantage could have been much more significant but for the efforts of Kevin Tiggs, who had 12 consecutive points and enabled his side to remain in touch despite their hosts' hot shooting.

The Breakers weren't missing many in the second and, after Abercrombie followed an alley-oop with a corner three, the lead stood at 11. But Wollongong started fast in the third and eventually snatched ascendancy late in the period, leaving the Breakers facing a nervous final quarter.

As they had for much of the game, though, the Breakers were rescued by the three-ball, with a pair of huge triples in the final minute from Johnson and Wilkinson proving enough to snatch a potentially significant win.

Breakers 106 (Johnson 21, Wilkinson 20, Abercrombie 20)
Hawks 101 (Tiggs 24, Clarke 23, Gruber 21)
HT: 55-49

- APNZ

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