Basketball: Breakers miss Australian NBL playoffs

By Kris Shannon

Finn Delany throws down a dunk during the Breakers' win over Melbourne on Friday. Photo / Getty
Finn Delany throws down a dunk during the Breakers' win over Melbourne on Friday. Photo / Getty

His first season in charge ended outside the playoffs, but Paul Henare has reason to feel confident that will prove an aberration in his time coaching the Breakers.

Henare's pulse would have been racing today as Melbourne came agonisingly close to beating Perth and giving the Breakers the result they needed to reach the post-season, but the Wildcats eventually triumphed to extend their incredible streak of 31 straight playoff appearances.

Watching on helplessly after wrapping their year with a win on Friday that eliminated Melbourne, the Breakers were left resigned to fifth place and a 14-14 record, finishing behind Adelaide (17-11), Cairns (15-13), Perth (15-13) and Illawarra (15-13).

But the Kiwi team could take heart in how they closed their campaign, winning six of their last eight games after occupying the bottom rung of the ladder as recently as last month.

A raft of injuries left the Breakers with too tough a climb out of that hole but, while eventually sinking their season, those health woes also revealed a couple of positives.

First, the various ailments combined to show character, with Henare's steady hand helping his side overcome a number of obstacles, continuing to find ways to win even as hands were broken, knees became infected and eyeballs popped from their sockets.

And second, the rotten run of luck provided more opportunities to players like Finn Delany and Shea Ili, a pair of youngsters who showed enough promise to suggest a bright future for the Breakers.

With the original 10-man roster combining to miss 55 games through injury, Henare was forced to cope with ever-changing personnel and calling upon two young Kiwis appeared a big part of the coach's plan B.

Delany and Ili were development players last year and this season justified their full contracts, with the former filling in for various forwards and the latter featuring prominently once Corey Webster was shut down.

The 21-year-old Delany displayed both aggressiveness and athleticism while playing 9.2 minutes across 25 games, having announced himself with a highlight-reel dunk in the pre-season, and the 24-year-old Ili was a defensive menace while averaging 19.1 minutes in 17 games after returning from his own injury.

"To see guys like Finn and Shea step on the floor and embrace the moment was really special," Henare said after both had career-high contributions in Friday's win over Melbourne. "For that to happen for those guys was just a real testament to the work they put in."

Delany, in particular, raised eyebrows with a series of fourth-quarter dunks, earning high praise from Melbourne guard Chris Goulding after the game.

"I've heard great things about him from everyone who's been around him since he was a young kid," Goulding said. "He showed that he's going to be a great player."

The potential of Delany and Ili should ensure no one at the club is too disheartened by the premature end to the campaign. And the challenge has certainly been set for next season - the last time the Breakers missed the playoffs they rebounded 12 months later to win their fourth championship.

- NZ Herald

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW
Stats provided by

© Copyright 2017, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf04 at 26 May 2017 21:58:40 Processing Time: 797ms