There was much to like in the improvement from the Breakers in just their second pre-season hit out but they were edged 79-75 by the Brisbane Bullets in Napier tonight, making it two from two for the visiting Andrej Lemanis coached team.
After leading throughout, the Breakers faded in the final quarter, going behind for the first time in the game with less than five minutes on the clock and despite attempted heroics from Webster and Abercrombie in the final 90 seconds, they couldn't quite get over the line on a night that saw Kirk Penney withdraw early with a slight calf strain.
Assistant Coach Mike Fitchett said there was again plenty to like about the performance which was clearly a step up from Tauranga.
"We took care of a couple of issues from the other night, rebounding and points in the pain hurt us then and while we still lost the rebounding battle we saw improvements in both those areas and tidied up some other loose areas from Tauranga. We were being outgunned 9 to 1 on the boards at the end of the first quarter, the players were reminded of that at the first break and responded reasonably well, but this is still a work on.
"In the absence of Kirk and with Corey not finding his range just yet we saw some players step up offensively, with Tommy and Ben in particular hitting some nice shots. Both Ben and Akil showed they were much more comfortable tonight, they will grow as they play more in the league. Akil's athleticism around the hoop and defensive work was good, while Ben shot the ball better and ran the show well.
"The game was there for the taking and we put ourselves in a strong position at three quarter time. We missed some good looks in the final quarter that we should have made, it wasn't fitness, Brisbane grabbed some great boards that hurt us and made some baskets on long possessions.
"But overall a nice improvement in just our second hit out, that is what this week is all about, improving every day and every game, we need to and will go up another notch or two in Invercargill on Saturday night."
Once again Alex Pledger was not risked this early in the pre-season, the Breakers centre is close to returning from a quad strain but did not suit up in Napier, leaving Rob Loe and Akil Mitchell to look after the Bullets bigs, with support from Mika Vukona and Finn Delany. Indeed the starting five had an unusual look about it, with both Mika Vukona and Corey Webster on the bench as Kirk Penney and Akil Mitchell started alongside Ben Woodside, Tom Abercrombie and Rob Loe.
The Breakers jumped out early to a 9-2 lead on the back of an early Penney triple and four quick points to Akil Mitchell in the paint. When that lead went to 18-9 with 4:35 left to play Lemanis had seen enough and called timeout. Incredibly given the score line, the Breakers were yet to pull down a board but led thanks to a 70% shooting return from the floor.
Brisbane responded in that final four minutes to close the gap to just four points at the first break, led by big man Tom Jervis's ten points on a perfect four from four from the floor.
That change in momentum picked up pace for Brisbane early in the second quarter, thanks largely to the Breakers offence stuttering and Finn Delany giving up three quick fouls inside the first three minutes of the period, with Coach Henare calling time out to talk to his team.
American point guard Ben Woodside is clearly a player who will pick and choose when to shoot, and with 5:53 left in the half he chose wisely, with his first attempt of the game a successful three to calm things for the Breakers and ease them to a 46-41 halftime lead, with Abercrombie and Mitchell both scoring 11 points.
The game was by now one of two teams going toe to toe, shot for shot, blow for blow but Brisbane suffered a standing count when Jervis headed to the bench with four personal fouls just three minutes into the second half. It didn't take long for the ledger to balance out though, with Vukona picking up his fourth and a seat on the bench with 2:28 left in the third.
Brisbane levelled the game up at 53 apiece late in the third but Abercrombie and Woodside led a late run by the Breakers that saw them take a six point lead into the final quarter. Foul trouble was looming though with Rob Loe on four to go with Vukona on the same number.
Brisbane came back again though and with the scores level at 64 with just over seven minutes to play, Coach Henare called time out to halt the Bullets flow and look to reset his own side's offence. The home side responded with the next four points, but Brisbane took their first lead of the game with 4:45 to play and from that moment were not headed, holding off a frantic fightback in the final minute to win 79-75.
The home side were much improved from the free throw line, making 15 of 18 and won the second half rebound count after a slow start on the boards. Another positive was the likes of Mitchell and Woodside stepping up offensively on an off night for Corey Webster and just under three minutes of action and one basket from Kirk Penney, with the shooting guard suffering a minor calf strain midway through the first quarter and deciding to withdraw himself from the rest of the night's action.