Basketball: Breakers fall in Bruton's farewell

By Kris Shannon

CJ Bruton signed off with a loss in the last game of a glittering career with the New Zealand Breakers. Photo / Getty
CJ Bruton signed off with a loss in the last game of a glittering career with the New Zealand Breakers. Photo / Getty

Breakers 83
Taipans 95

It ended with bows, blown kisses and a well-deserved standing ovation.

After 179 games, 120 wins and 2049 points, CJ Bruton tonight closed the book on his Breakers career with a 95-83 loss to the Cairns Taipans at Vector Arena.

An inconsequential game in a 11-17 season was hardly how Bruton would have dreamed of bowing out in Breakers colours - that fairytale finish arrived a year too soon with last season's win in Perth to seal a third straight championship.

And it was a departure that broke from the Breakers' recent tradition for farewelling greats. Both Paul Henare and Dillon Boucher - whose retired numbers hanging in the rafters will soon be joined by Bruton's No 23 - were sent into retirement with titles.

But Bruton didn't look like he was about to complain in front of a near-capacity crowd of 8000 at Vector Arena, with the ticket sales for a meaningless game measuring just how much Bruton has meant to the public in his six years in Auckland.

"What I prayed for in the beginning was to play in an arena like this and bring a championship to New Zealand,'' Bruton said moments after the final buzzer. "And now I just pray that you fans keep believing in this club.''

While he has left the door open to add to his 516 appearances in the Australian NBL with another team, it would be bizarre to see Bruton back in New Zealand next season in a different singlet.

After all, there is little for the 38-year-old left to prove. He currently ranks 18th all-time in points and 11th in assists, with his six championships spread across three clubs - New Zealand (3), Sydney (2) and Brisbane (1).

Tonight's game almost felt like an afterthought, a two-hour tribute to one of the true greats of Australasian basketball. A horror third quarter from the Breakers took some of the gloss off that tribute, consigning the defending champions to seventh spot in the eight-team league.

Bruton had 11 points, including a pair of three-pointers in the fourth, but he would still have left with a smile.

The festivities began with the player introductions, with both teams standing in applause as Bruton trotted last out of the locker room with sons Rio and Roc in tow. Reuben Te Rangi led the Breakers' academy in a haka for the adopted Kiwi, before the home side stripped off their tracksuits to reveal a commemorative all-black singlet.

Bruton, unsurprisingly, got the start and grabbed his first points midway through a first quarter in which the Breakers established a six-point lead. The champs were up by nine at the major break, but Cairns recovered and eventually pulled ahead in the third to take a six-point edge into the final quarter.

While Bruton knocked down two triples - his last in a Breakers uniform - Cairns continued to pull away and handed the Breakers yet another defeat.

"I know that we didn't finish the season the way I wanted, the way [the fans] wanted, or the way the organisation wanted,'' Bruton said. "But I know basketball in New Zealand is only going to get better and better.''

Breakers 83 (Wilkinson 16, Webster 13, Vukona 13)
Taipans 95 (Loughton 24, Gliddon 23, McCamey 18)
HT: 55-46

- APNZ

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