Basketball: Breakers topple favourites in opener

By Kris Shannon

Breakers 76 Melbourne 71
Tom Abercrombie takes the ball to the hoop in the Breakers' opener against Melbourne. Photo /
Tom Abercrombie takes the ball to the hoop in the Breakers' opener against Melbourne. Photo /

Winless in the pre-season and facing the competition favourites, the Breakers tonight began their Australian NBL campaign with a statement victory.

Last year's beaten finalists defied many pundits' predictions and showed they should again challenge in the transtasman league, starting strongly and eventually edging Melbourne United at Vector Arena.

The win gave Paul Henare a perfect opening night in his reign and, while it was only one game of a long and arduous season, the coach does appear to have a roster to contend.

No one player stood above his teammates and it must have been that aspect that was especially pleasing to the new coaching staff. From the returning Kirk Penney to a bench brimming with talent, Henare had just enough weapons at his disposal to turn a solid defensive effort into a 1-0 start.

The Breakers would have been forgiven for looking across the court and contemplating what they were missing. Former fan favourites Cedric Jackson and Tai Wesley were now wearing opposition colours and, when combined with MVP runner-up Chris Goulding, it was easy to see why Melbourne were the bookies' favourites heading into the season.

But blessed with their full squad after an injury-hit pre-season, the Breakers were more than happy with the men wearing black. Tom Abercrombie led the way with 14 points, Penney added nine after being surprisingly named to start and, having lost his spot, Corey Webster chimed in with 11 off the bench.

That trio was far from alone and the spread of scoring - a hallmark of the best Breakers teams - was too much for Melbourne to contain.

That's exactly what the club must have imagined when they added Penney to their ranks and the shooting guard wasted no time in draining his first attempt from deep as the Breakers led by one after the opening quarter.

Melbourne, on the other hand, started slowly and struggled to find their offensive touch, held to just 31 points in the opening 20 minutes as the Breakers went into the major break ahead by nine.

It was the three-ball that carried the Breakers in front, shooting 50 per cent as a team in the half as Abercrombie and Webster quickly discovered their range.

Tall Blacks recruit Rob Loe also showed a willingness to try his luck from deep and made a couple at key moments, an encouraging attribute that would appear to give the Breakers their first three-shooting big man since Gary Wilkinson.

Loe was regularly left open at the top of the arc, with the space forged by a level of ball movement Melbourne initially failed to match. The competition favourites were disjointed offensively until midway through the third, as back-to-back tripled from Wesley helped his side embark on a 10-0 run and storm into the lead.

It was eventually a big block from new import Akil Mitchell that stemmed the bleeding, with the American adding admirable energy off the bench before finishing with eight points and eight rebounds. But the Breakers' sudden offensive struggles saw them add only eight points to their tally in the period and left them trailing by four heading into the fourth.

But, as he so often did last season, Webster warmed up at the perfect time, grabbing eight straight points to give the home side a lead they wouldn't squander.

Breakers 76 (T. Abercrombie 14, M. Vukona 12, C. Webster 11)
Melbourne 71 (T. Wesley 15, C. Jackson 14, D. Andersen 9)
Halftime: 40-31

- NZ Herald

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