NZ Breakers 96
Illawarra Hawks 79
The Breakers moved within a win of the Australian NBL's top four with a comprehensive victory over the Illawarra Hawks tonight.
A four-minute spell in the first quarter when the Breakers out-scored the visitors 15-2 opened a decisive gap that was never threatened.
The Hawks never led at any point and never got closer than eight points once the Breakers had built a double-digit lead late in the first quarter.
Neither side shot particularly well but the Breakers boasted a defensive intensity and played with an energy Illawarra couldn't match.
Playing in front of a crowd of 3100 at Hamilton's Claudelands Arena, the hosts led 22-10 at the first break and then extended that slightly to 46-32 at halftime.
The Breakers braced for a strong Illawarra response after a loud halftime team talk from Hawks coach Rob Beveridge but no comeback eventuated.
Kevin Braswell's team maintained their 14-point advantage to lead 70-56 at the final break, then cruised through the fourth quarter to win by 17.
Shawn Long was immense for the Breakers, top-scoring with a 26-point haul that included several spectacular dunks while also pulling down 13 rebounds. The hosts also had notable scoring contributions from Patrick Richard (14), Jarrad Weeks (13), Armani Moore (13) and Shea Ili (12).
Jordair Jett led the scoring for Illawarra with 16, one of five Hawks to reach double figures, including former Breakers legend Cedric Jackson (10).
This is the kind of match the Breakers must win to enhance their chances of making the playoffs.
With the 28-game regular season around the halfway mark, Perth (11-4), Sydney (10-4) and Melbourne (10-5) look the likely top three.
That leaves Brisbane (7-7), Adelaide (6-8), New Zealand (6-8) and Illawarra (6-9) scrapping for the final playoff spot, with Cairns (1-12) the only team out of contention.
After snapping a five-game losing streak with an 89-78 win in Cairns on Sunday, tonight's result will allow the Breakers to take renewed confidence and form into their next two games, both in Adelaide, on December 30 and January 4.
"We're playing with confidence from our win over Cairns," said Weeks. "We've just got to carry it on over Christmas."
The Breakers next play at home against Perth on January 6.