Basketball: Johnson spurs Breakers on mission to rescue season

By Kris Shannon

Rookie import Kerron Johnson's late heroics tipped the game against Wollongong the Breakers' way. Photo / Getty Images
Rookie import Kerron Johnson's late heroics tipped the game against Wollongong the Breakers' way. Photo / Getty Images

A night without an assist would typically be cause for consternation for a point guard - but not Kerron Johnson.

Instead, Johnson produced one of his most influential performances in a Breakers singlet in Thursday night's five-point win over Wollongong, helping his side take another step towards saving their season.

If the defending champions are to claw their way back into playoff contention, two things must happen - they need to continue their recent form of three wins from five games and Johnson needs to chime in with a few more significant contributions.

The American had plenty of motivation playing the Hawks - going against former college foe Rotnei Clarke - and the challenge will be replicating his team-high 21 points in what is shaping as a decisive double-header against Sydney.

Provided Johnson carries his form into the crucial encounters with the Kings, a couple of wins could potentially see the Breakers occupy the fourth and final playoff spot in two weeks.

It's a prospect that seemed unlikely for much of the campaign, and one which would have been almost impossible had the Breakers been clipped by the Hawks.

But a game that swung both ways all evening eventually tilted in the home side's direction for good when Johnson drained his third three-pointer with a little more than a minute on the clock.

That shot left his team's lead at four and left his coach understandably delighted with the impact of the rookie import.

"He's someone down the stretch that we go to," said Dean Vickerman. "We just use his quickness and he's pretty hard to contain in those situations.

"It was really pleasing to see him shoot the three ball. It was something that we always felt was in there and he showed it in preseason . Coming out and making the three threes ... I was really pleased with his contribution down the stretch."

Johnson's late heroics were perhaps sparked in the third quarter, when the Breakers led by two and Clarke was driving to the hoop. With Johnson's Belmont University battling Clarke's Butler during the pair's college days, Johnson knew what to expect from the Australian NBL's third-leading scorer.

He stalked his rival all the way to the rim before rejecting Clarke's attempt and sending him sprawling to the floor. But Johnson wasn't done there - standing over Clarke and letting him know exactly who won that particular battle.

"It got a little spirited there for a minute but we're both competitors," Johnson said. "It was a big match-up for us and I was really up for it. I just wanted to try and make everything hard. I think you saw that on that play, there was just that little bit of emotion that I'm not used to playing with. We've just got to keep that confidence rolling."

Johnson can sometimes seem to be lacking in confidence but, in his maiden professional season, it must be difficult running the point for the underachieving champs. And that deficiency would hardly have been helped by every mention of his predecessor - though Wollongong coach Gordie McLeod felt such comparisons to Cedric Jackson were unfair.

"[Johnson's] a great player," McLeod said. "I feel he's getting pegged the wrong way. It's pretty hard when you come in behind Cedric Jackson - it's pretty hard to come in and step into those boots.

"But he's got a great skill package. It's just about him finding what his role is within the team and how they can best use him. As it goes on, they're going to need him to make plays."

- NZ Herald

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