NZ Breakers 91
The Sky Sport Breakers are within touching distance of the Australian NBL playoffs after an epic victory in Brisbane tonight.
This was a virtual quarter-final for the Breakers — defeat would have ended their playoff hopes which have rested on a knife edge the entire season.
The Breakers got the win they required to stay alive but the Dan Shamir-coached team now need three more things to go their way to snatch the final playoff spot from the Brisbane Bullets.
* Brisbane have to lose one more match. And they finish the regular season with two tough fixtures — in Perth against a Wildcats team chasing top spot on Sunday night and home to third-placed Cairns next Saturday.
*The Breakers must win their final regular-season game — it's in Christchurch next Friday against a South East Melbourne Phoenix side that have lost their last five.
* If that happens, the Breakers and Bullets would both finish 15-13 and points differential would be required to separate the sides. The Breakers are +37, Brisbane +27, so a big win over the Phoenix could be essential to lock in fourth.
This was a game that ebbed and flowed. Brisbane went in as the league's form team, having won their last six in a row, including by 10 against the Breakers at Spark Arena four weeks ago.
The Bullets, coached by former Breakers boss Andrej Lemanis, started with intent, racing to a 10-0 lead inside two minutes.
The Breakers responded, led by 10 points in five minutes from Scotty Hopson, while Tom Abercrombie and Sek Henry combined for five three-pointers.
With a minute to the first break, the Breakers had stormed into a 30-25 lead. But then back came Brisbane, putting on a 14-point run to have the hosts 39-30 ahead 90 seconds into the second quarter.
Once again, the Breakers worked their way back into the game, Finn Delany leading the way on defence with seven first-half rebounds on the way to 12 for the match.
Hopson added another nine points, proving a handful driving to the basket, and Rob Loe made all three of his three-point attempts as the Breakers reached halftime up 53-52.
The third quarter followed the pattern of the first two — an 11-2 run saw the Bullets ease away to 65-57 before the Breakers again fought back to lead 72-70 heading into the final quarter.
Lamar Patterson, who had averaged 25 points in his three previous games against the Breakers this season — the most of any player in the NBL — had a relatively quiet night. But Nathan Sobey stepped up, taking his total to 30 as Brisbane regained the initiative.
But Hopson remained the Breakers' biggest offensive threat as he headed for a season-high points haul of 31. The lead swapped back and forth and the game was in the balance until Hopson closed it out, scoring the penultimate Breakers basket, then setting up Delany for the match-clincher.
And then he made a statement just as bold after the match: "I wanted to prove who's the best player in the league."
He's certainly made a strong case through the second half of the season, having helped carry his side from 4-10 at the midway point to the brink of an unlikely playoff spot.