Basketball: Breakers barely survive

By Kris Shannon

Gary Wilkinson battles for the ball during the Breakers' clash with the Crocs. Photo / Getty
Gary Wilkinson battles for the ball during the Breakers' clash with the Crocs. Photo / Getty

Breakers 102
Crocs 99

They did it the hard way but that was only appropriate as the Breakers began their miracle push for the playoffs.

The defending champions threatened to flatline for much of their clash with the Crocs before Tom Abercrombie sparked a revival and helped his side to a 102-99 victory on the North Shore tonight.

Abercrombie kept the Breakers in the contest after they trailed from the opening minutes, returning late in the game to land the dagger blows and finish with a season-high 29 points.

"Abercrombie came out aggressive and continued at a high percentage the whole night,'' said coach Dean Vickerman. "He called his number a few times and that's what we've been asking of him this year.''

The swingman shot 12-of-19 from the floor and, on his home patch, provided exactly the performance the Breakers desperately required.

Perhaps his teammates knew it was coming, with the players full of the belief this week that they remained a chance of grabbing an unlikely playoff spot.

Four wins are needed from their final four games and they will be seriously tested in Cairns on Saturday. A triumph there would set up a tantalising prospect of three games at home to get into the finals series.

The odds remain against them - the Breakers' best winning streak this season sits at just two - and consistency is only one obstacle.

Melbourne (12-11) and Sydney (11-11) will be among the visitors and, desperate to hang onto their own playoff berths, it will be far from easy for the Breakers (10-14).

But if they can put it together like they did tonight, the champs will present a formidable opponent over the final run home. Mika Vukona provided able support for Abercrombie's heroics, grabbing a season high of his own to finish with 20 points and six rebounds.

And CJ Bruton, in the final stretch of his career in New Zealand, became the second player behind Kirk Penney to bring up 2000 points for the Breakers, ensuring his place in the club's history.

Enjoying increased court time in the absence of the injured Daryl Corletto, Bruton finished with 14 points and earned the praise of his coach.

"CJ tonight was unbelievable,'' Vickerman said. "His organisation of people through that little patch [at the end] was outstanding. He made a couple of big three-balls himself, just to keep us going when we needed it.''

The Breakers could have used it early on, falling behind in the opening quarter after allowing Townsville some easy baskets in the paint. Abercrombie ensured the home side remained in touch, grabbing 10 points in 10 minutes and spectacularly jumping over Jacob Holmes to slam home a lob pass from Kerron Johnson.

While the Crocs' advantage gradually grew to double figures midway through the period, Abercrombie again amended that situation and scored six quick points to draw the Breakers within five at the major break.

Townsville retained that lead throughout the third, stamping out threats whenever the Breakers looked set to seize the momentum, but the Crocs finally wilted in the face of some sustained pressure in the fourth.

A 13-3 run from the hosts arrived at the perfect time, capped by a triple from Abercrombie that handed his side their first lead since the opening quarter, before Steve Markovic's potentially game-tying buzzer-beating three bounced in and out.

Breakers 102 (Abercrombie 29, Vukona 20, Wilkinson 14)
Crocs 99 (Conklin 26, Blanchfield 17, Markovic 15)
HT: 45-50

- APNZ

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