Andrew Mulligan: Champs face do-or-die struggle to avoid pantsing by Perth

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Perth Wildcats' Damian Martin point guard is a floor leader who can sniff a steal a mile away. Photo / Getty Images
Perth Wildcats' Damian Martin point guard is a floor leader who can sniff a steal a mile away. Photo / Getty Images

The one thing the New Zealand Breakers have learned from their home games is that they don't want to be caught with their pants down in the Tangata Whenua room tonight.

Only two teams in a grand final series where air travel is a factor have won the title after dropping game one. And only one of those teams lost the first game on the road - the 2008 Melbourne Tigers losing to the Sydney Kings.

Coming off 10 days' rest, the longest any team has waited for a grand final series to start, wasn't so much costly for the Breakers as an opportunity.

The rest they enjoyed meant lingering injuries could be dealt with and as soon as they knew on Saturday night where they were playing, they flew to Perth to deal with the five-hour time difference.

This might not be news to you but it is important. The Breakers effectively dealt with the time zone the best way sport scientists told them to and now, after a loss where fatigue wasn't an issue as much as stopping Nathan Jawai and Perth scoring in the key, they are on the same travel schedule as the Wildcats.

The Wildcats, though, looked so hungry in game one. A veteran core of five players are smarting from consistently losing to the Breakers in semifinals and finals, and having the ignominy of watching the Breakers celebrate a title in Perth in 2013. Those players desperately want to return the feeling.

Especially Damian Martin, who missed the 2013 grand final series with a ruptured Achilles tendon. On Wednesday, he was the difference down the stretch in the fourth quarter. He's a point guard who seems to be everywhere, a floor leader who can sniff a steal a mile away.

Conversely, this is the time of year when Mika Vukona is virtually unstoppable. He's relentless like Martin and should be considered one of the great athletes of New Zealand sport. He's feared and respected not just across the league but internationally and while he's not the name of Steven Adams or a high-scoring star such as Kirk Penney, he's the guy everyone wants on their team.

Vukona once played with a partially torn knee ligament to win a do-or-die game against the Wildcats in the 2011 semifinals and went on to win the club's first title against Cairns.

The Breakers will be a different team at the friendly and understated confines of the North Shore Events Centre tonight, where they shoot much better than at Vector Arena, which is hosting Madonna.

The key here is to keep Perth out of the key's painted area. Nathan Jawai, a huge 145kg slab of a man, destroyed any chance of the Breakers getting into a rhythm by scoring early and often, forcing the likes of Alex Pledger and Charles Jackson into foul trouble. However, he has been struggling with a back injury.

What the Breakers won't need to manufacture is a feeling of desperation because it's unfamiliar territory for the core of a team which has won four titles without ever going a game down in a grand final series.

How they deal with making adjustments in the day-and-a-half between games will be imperative.

It's time to dust off Madonna's Celebration CD and get ready for a cracking game.

- NZ Herald

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