Basketball: Breakers have experience, and Captain Relentless

By Kris Shannon

Breakers veteran Mika Vukona has the desire and the ball against Melbourne on Thursday.  Photo / Getty Images
Breakers veteran Mika Vukona has the desire and the ball against Melbourne on Thursday. Photo / Getty Images

Melbourne would have sensed they were in trouble the moment Mika Vukona snaffled two steals in two first-quarter minutes.

Both led to easy baskets, both were part of the Breakers' incredible early surge in the semifinal opener, and both showed Vukona - and his team - were again ready to flourish in their favourite time of the year.

When the Breakers adopt the attitude they displayed at Hisense Arena on Thursday night, it means bad things for the opposition - four sweeps in the Kiwi club's last four post-season series can attest to that.

Whether Melbourne can avoid becoming the Breakers' fifth victim will become clear at Vector Arena tonight, where the minor premiers will be aiming to hand the defending champs their first playoff defeat since 2012 and send the series back across the Tasman for a decider.

Considering the way the Breakers have performed the past month, though, winning six straight games including three on the trot against Melbourne, that task appears tougher than denying Vukona a loose ball.

The skipper, as always, typified his team in Melbourne, showing passion on every possession as the Breakers built a 23-6 advantage. And, like all the playoff veterans alongside him, he was unbowed when the hosts staged a fightback to seize a slim halftime lead.

"Coming in at halftime, it was a calm locker room," said assistant coach Paul Henare. "Possibly in different environments and on other teams, there would have been a certain level of stress that would come out under those circumstances. But the boys were great.

"They stayed on an even keel as we always try to do and I guess that's what experience gives you.

"Having guys like Cedric Jackson and Mika Vukona, Alex Pledger and Tom Abercrombie, guys who have been through it all, that always helps. That championship experience that we rely on and that they lean on in those tough times, it always helps."

The mere presence of Vukona in the line-up is a particular boon. Thursday marked Vukona's 33rd playoff appearance in the Australian NBL - he celebrated by recording 11 points, 13 rebounds, five assists and four steals - and it was also one of his best.

"He was fantastic," Abercrombie said. "It was just a real relentless approach and he took things up to that next level that playoff basketball requires of you. He led us from the front."

Henare went even further when describing the performance: "One of the greatest - one of the all-time best," he said. "From the tip, he was unbelievable. He was over every loose ball and he was just amazing.

"That's why he's our captain, that's why he's our leader, that's why he's been an inspiration on any team he's been a part of for such a long time."

And that's why, when factoring in all the weapons who sit around Vukona, Melbourne's stay in the playoffs may be brief.

- NZ Herald

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