Basketball: Breakers face nervous wait to learn fate

By Kris Shannon

Breakers 88 Melbourne 70
Kirk Penney of the Breakers shoots against Todd Blanchfield of Melbourne. Photo / Getty
Kirk Penney of the Breakers shoots against Todd Blanchfield of Melbourne. Photo / Getty

The Breakers will be facing an anxious weekend in front of the television - but a few nerves while on the couch is far better than the alternative.

Tonight's tense victory over Melbourne United at the NSEC saw the Breakers temporarily save their season and throw down a challenge to the other five sides battling for playoff spots at the end of this incredible Australian NBL campaign.

Needing to win to have any chance of reaching the post-season for the sixth time in seven seasons, the Breakers did their part and will now wait with fingers crossed as the rest of the round concludes across the Tasman.

It's still too early to speculate on which combination of results the Breakers (14-14) require and their fate will probably remain unknown until the season's final game on Sunday.

But the Breakers have certainly shown the fight required to book a playoff berth, finishing with six wins in eight games after a suffering an injury curse that saw them slip to the bottom of the standings.

"I'm extremely proud of this group, in terms of what they've been through throughout this season and throughout the last few weeks," said coach Paul Henare. "Any obstacle that's put in front of them and anything that's thrown at them, they just find a way to keep pushing and keeping battling for one another."

That quality was again on display when their injury woes hampered this most important of weeks. But, once again, Breakers were unbowed against Melbourne, exemplifying the steady approach Henare has employed in his first season in charge.

After Akil Mitchell headed back to the United States to seek specialist treatment on his eye, the Breakers suffered another blow when Mika Vukona was scratched. An infected knee saw the skipper confined to a hospital bed - much to Vukona's undoubted chagrin - and the withdrawal marked just his fifth missed game in 10 years at the club.

But, as Henare often preaches, the injury merely allowed another player an opportunity. And Finn Delany subsequently enjoyed his best game of his rookie campaign, finishing with 13 points and nine rebounds while making pivotal fourth-quarter contributions.

Vukona's absence also meant Kirk Penney finished the regular season as the only Breaker to start all 28 games and the guard celebrated his durability by bringing up a milestone that spoke to his longevity, becoming the first player to score 3000 points for the club.

Penney ended his night with 15 while back-court mate Kevin Dillard led the way with 16 as the Breakers finished with six players in double digits. But, with playoff-like stakes, it was a rebounding and defensive effort worthy of the post-season that carried the Breakers home, taking control in the third as they limited Melbourne to 32 points in the second half.

"Everyone who stepped on the floor tonight embraced the moment and the situation and really stood up when we needed it," Henare said. "No matter what happens this weekend, everyone involved in this team can hold their heads high."

Breakers 88 (K. Dillard 16, K. Penney 15, F. Delany 13)
Melbourne 70 (C. Ware 23, J. Boone 10, D. Andersen 10)
Halftime: 38-38

- NZ Herald

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