The New Zealand Breakers are going back to the Australian NBL grand final.
For the first time since 2016, the franchise will be contesting the series every team wants to play in, after squashing the Tasmania JackJumpers 92-77 in their all-or-nothing semifinal elimination match in Auckland on Sunday.
The teams split the first two games of their knockout series, with home court advantage proving key as each won comfortably in their own buildings.
But the Breakers fought hard down the stretch of the regular season to claim a top-two spot and therefore get to play at home in a semifinal eliminator. They didn’t disappoint in front of a vocal Spark Arena crowd.
Despite what the score line may suggest, the win wasn’t without some nervy moments for the Breakers. Their start was terrible as the referees made their presence felt early. The Breakers committed three fouls in the opening 90 seconds of the match - one a particularly harsh call on Rayan Rupert - and the JackJumpers made them pay.
As the Breakers didn’t sink a field goal for almost the first four minutes of the game – their only points coming from the charity stripe - the JackJumpers raced out to a 10-2 lead.
It wasn’t only on the offensive end that the Breakers looked out of sync. Too often in the first quarter, the JackJumpers’ ball movement caused the Breakers to scramble and often leave a shooter unmarked from deep; Jack McVeigh, Sean Macdonald and Jarrad Weeks feasting on their opportunities.
While the shots weren’t dropping, centre Dererk Pardon did a lot of cleaning up - defending stoically and going up strong for rebounds on both ends. But it was two spark plugs off the bench in Barry Brown Jr and Rob Loe that got the Breakers going in the right direction.
Loe checked in with three minutes and 30 seconds left in the quarter with the Breakers trailing by eight; he checked out 90 seconds into the second as the side tied the game up.
Shooting just 6-19 from the field in the first quarter, resuming the second just four points down was far from the worst-case scenario for the hosts, but a 10-0 run between late in the first and early in the second quarters saw them take the lead for the first time in the game.
The shots were falling, they were getting stops, and they didn’t look back.
Tasmania never went away, and constantly cut into the Breakers’ leads whenever it looked like the hosts were about to run away with it, but the Breakers stayed composed to earn their place on the league’s biggest stage.
They will now move on to play in a best-of-five finals series against the Sydney Kings, who got past the Cairns Taipans in three games in their own semifinal series.
The Kings finished the regular season atop the ladder with a 19-9 record - one game ahead of the Breakers -– and will have home court advantage for the finals.
NZ Breakers 92 (Barry Brown Jr 32, Dererk Pardon 15, Jarrell Brantley 14, Rob Loe 11, Izayah Le’afa 10)
Tasmania JackJumpers 77 (Jack McVeigh 22, Rashard Kelly 16, Sean Macdonald 14, Milton Doyle 12)
1Q: 21-25. HT: 49-42. 3Q: 67-64.