Breakers 81 Taipans 94

Breakers forward Akil Mitchell is in good spirits and appears to have avoided serious damage after suffering a sickening eye injury during his side's loss to the Cairns Taipans tonight.

Mitchell received a poke to the eye early in the fourth quarter of the clash at the North Shore Events Centre, collapsing to the court as teammates and opponents reacted with horror.

Supporters nearby also appeared stunned by the incident and, while the televised broadcast was careful to avoid showing replays, images on social media showed that Mitchell's eyeball had been dislodged from the socket.

The American was quickly surrounded by his teammates and, after a 15-minute delay, coach Paul Henare helped Mitchell walk from the court with a towel draped over his face, receiving a rapturous ovation from the NSEC crowd.

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Mitchell was then taken to Auckland Hospital where he and the Breakers received the best possible news.

"Akil is sitting up and resting, and has vision to his injured eye," Breakers general manager Dillon Boucher said late tonight. "While there is some damage, the early reports are very positive that the injury is not as serious as first feared."

Mitchell was even released from hospital and allowed to return home, but will undergo further medical tests tomorrow to determine the exact extent of the injury. Yet the early reports ended what had been a harrowing night on an encouraging note.

He posted on Twitter late last night using the eyeballs emoji and saying he was "seeing fine".

The Breakers were during the delay contacted by league officials and given the chance to suspend the game. But after receiving a message from their fallen teammate, the players decided to continue.

"Akil was in the changing room and said to Pauli, 'Make sure we win the rebound battle'," said assistant coach Mike Fitchett. "The guys wanted to keep playing - they knew that's what Akil would have wanted in that situation.

"Obviously it's very difficult to carry on when you see something like that, but the guys did an admirable job."

Understandably enough, Cairns were the stronger side when the game resumed and went on to easily close out victory. But Taipans coach Aaron Fearne said his side were also shaken by what had happened to Mitchell.

Akil Mitchell of the Breakers acknowledges the supporters as he is helped off the court. Photo / Getty
Akil Mitchell of the Breakers acknowledges the supporters as he is helped off the court. Photo / Getty

"Our thoughts are with him. That was pretty sickening to see for everybody in the stadium and those closest to the court."

The injury abruptly curtailed what was shaping as one of Mitchell's best games in an impressive first season with the Breakers, having scored 13 points and added 10 rebounds in 18 energetic minutes. Despite the positive news about the 24-year-old's prognosis, his involvement in the final three games of the regular season must be in serious doubt.

layers and staff members of the Breakers show concerns as they gather around Akil Mitchell who suffers a serious eye injury. Photo / Getty
layers and staff members of the Breakers show concerns as they gather around Akil Mitchell who suffers a serious eye injury. Photo / Getty

Tonight's defeat magnified the importance of those last outings - beginning with Sunday's trip to Sydney - though the Breakers would have been forgiven if their playoff fate was the furthermost thing from their minds in the immediate aftermath of the game.

"We're in a situation right now fighting for the playoffs, and we'll come out and battle on Sunday, but tonight basketball is just basketball," Fitchett said. "Obviously when you have a serious injury it's a shock to the guys. They're just getting around each other at the moment and trying to stay positive.

"We have a lot of great veteran leaders in the locker-room, the team's really close-knit and we've been through so much adversity this year - this is probably the worst of it. Those guys will lead and we'll come out on Sunday, put our hard hats on and try to do the business."

Players and staff members of the Breakers show concerns as they gather around Akil Mitchell who suffers a serious eye injury. Photo / Getty
Players and staff members of the Breakers show concerns as they gather around Akil Mitchell who suffers a serious eye injury. Photo / Getty

Having as Fitchett mentioned already recovered from some cruel injury luck earlier in the campaign, tonight's loss ended the Breakers' (12-13) four-game winning streak and left them with some work to do if they wish to punch their post-season ticket.

Victory on Sunday will be vital if they do emerge from a crowded ladder and achieve that goal but, for one night at least, their finals fate felt almost irrelevant.

Breakers 81 (K. Penney 18, M. Vukona 16, A. Mitchell 13)
Taipans 94 (C. Gliddon 26, A. Loughton 21, J. Weeks 13)
Halftime: 41-44