Basketball: Breakers' playoff hopes now rest with fiercest foe

By Kris Shannon

Kirk Penney is the only Breaker to have started all 28 games. Photo / Photosport
Kirk Penney is the only Breaker to have started all 28 games. Photo / Photosport

In the end, as always, it comes down to the Breakers and Perth.

After the two rivals won their respective games on Friday night, there is room for only one in the Australian NBL post-season ahead of today's dramatic denouement.

Either Perth triumph in Melbourne this afternoon and extend an incredible streak to 31 straight seasons reaching the playoffs, or Melbourne do the Breakers a big favour and allow to Kiwi club to sneak in at the Wildcats' expense.

A victory for Melbourne - eliminated by the Breakers on Friday - is now the only scenario in which Paul Henare's side book a semifinal spot, having completed their campaign with a 14-14 record.

If Perth lose they, too, will finish with as many wins as losses, allowing the Breakers to advance by virtue of edging the four-game season series between the sides.

It's appropriate, given the recent history of this rivalry, for the old foes to be locked in another knockout battle, albeit indirectly. The Breakers defeated Perth in the playoffs during each year of their historic three-peat of titles, before the Wildcats turned the tables in last season's grand final.

Both sides have in the current campaign only sporadically shown championship form, sustaining prolonged swings in form and battling injury bugs as they barely remained in the playoff picture.

The Breakers, in particular, have occasionally seemed cursed, with their original 10-man roster missing a combined 55 games through injury. Back-court duo Ben Woodside (18) and Corey Webster (13) contributed most to that number with Shea Ili (11) and Tom Abercrombie (seven) others to spend a long time on the sidelines.

All the injuries meant Kirk Penney was the only Breaker to start all 28 games in the regular season, with Henare forced to employ 10 different starting fives. And ahead of today's finale, Penney sat third in the league with 858 minutes, occupying the court almost four hours longer than Abercrombie (621), the next-best Breaker.

In some ways, given that level of upheaval, this would be one of the Breakers' most impressive regular season results, if Melbourne do emerge victorious in what for them is essentially a meaningless game.

"I'm extremely proud and extremely happy for the group, in terms of what they've been through throughout this season," Henare said after the win over Melbourne. And Henare said his pride would be undiminished regardless of what transpired this afternoon, where a premature end to the season would leave him pragmatic rather than heartbroken.

"That's sport. We had a chance to get 15 wins - if we had 15 wins we wouldn't be sitting here doing this.

"There's probably 10 to 12 games we can look at this year and say, 'We probably should have got that one'."

That feeling will only be exacerbated if Perth extinguish their old rivals' hopes and, in spite of himself, Henare will be watching.

"Unfortunately, yes," Henare smiled. "And that'll be a horrible time."

- Herald on Sunday

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