The SKYCITY Breakers return to Auckland tomorrow knowing they have plenty of work in front of them and players to get healthy before opening night in the NBL on October 7 at Vector Arena against Melbourne United, beaten 86-77 by the Brisbane Bullets in Invercargill this afternoon.

Highlighting the pre-season nature of the clash and the fact it was a third in five days there were starts given to Jordan Ngatai and Alex Pledger, with the Chief suiting up for the first time in the series as he overcomes a minor injury.

They joined Mika Vukona, Tom Abercrombie and Ben Woodside in the starting five on a night when development players Derone Raukawa and Ethan Rusbatch would see plenty of minutes, indeed they and Ngatai were the only to play more than 20.

Kirk Penney and Corey Webster did not suit up for the home side, Penney after he played less than three minutes in game two with a minor calf strain and Webster being cautious with a back spasm.

Missing two of the NBLs hottest scorers was further compounded with Tom Abercrombie only lasting 70 seconds before he succumbed to a back injury that he felt in the warm up and while not a serious issue, the swingman played no further part and American point guard Ben Woodside did not play in the second half as he too nurses a minor heel issue.

Head Coach Paul Henare spoke after the game of a disrupted afternoon for a number of reasons.

"It was a constant battle, we were dealing with injuries and then four guys on four fouls - it was a bit frustrating having to manage the minutes of guys. The game was whistled in a different way as well, we had two of the same refs and one change, but it was hard to get any flow or rhythm - I think that is fair to say for both teams.

"I am really proud of the guys that came in though, Derone and Ethan got their first minutes and played extremely well after a few days having to sit back and do little more during the games other than watching, they played some great hoops, we are going to have injuries throughout the year so it is important that everyone shows they are ready."

For the first time in the series the Breakers won the rebounding count and also hustled hard on defence, picking up six steals and five blocked shots.

"The effort areas have been a constant work on since game one, we have been on the back foot and havent taken care of that area in the way I would like. Akil was great tonight and took it as a bit of personal pride, we challenged him to get more boards and he had 11 in 19 minutes which is what we expect of him.

"Results and injuries aside we have come together well as a group and worked on our identity and coming together as a team. On the floor I would have liked more progress, we have made improvements across a couple of areas over the week and will continue to get better every day in the pre-season and be ready to go on October 7 at Vector Arena."

The first quarter was an offensive struggle for the Breakers and ultimately proved costly, with the final losing margin identical to that of the first quarter deficit. After opening a 5-0 lead on the back of a Ngatai three and two Ethan Rusbatch free throws, the Breakers could only shoot 3 of 11 from the floor for the quarter and found themselves down 14-23, with Mathew Kenyon on six points leading an across the board effort from the Bullets.

With five turnovers and losing the rebound count 6-12, it was all in all a quarter to forget for the home side, with one bright note being the introduction of local Southland Sharks favourite Derone Raukawa with just over a minute to play. He brought his usual energy with a rebound and a couple of free throws before opening the second quarter with a three from beyond the arc.

The Breakers surged back to within two at 22-24, Brisbane not helping themselves committing six team fouls inside the first three minutes of the second quarter, but Brisbane responded with an unsportsmanlike call on Jordan Ngatai turning momentum and the Bullets again extended out to 32-24, before they eventually took a 44-34 lead into the main break.

Pretty basketball this was not, a scrap with plenty of whistle it most certainly was as both sides knuckled down for an arm wrestle. Incredibly the first half saw a total of 38 fouls called, 21 of them against the Bullets. Combined the two teams went to the line 53 times with the Breakers making 18 of 29 and the Bullets 16 of 24. With the Breakers only shooting at 29% it was a wonder they were still in the game at ten points down.

The third quarter saw more of the same as it seemed there was a race to the locker room - perhaps someone said there was a hot water shortage down south, with Vukona, Ngatai, Loe, Mitchell and Tueta from the Breakers and Bullets Jervis and Young all on four fouls by the third quarter break with the visitors leading by the same margin 65-55.

Raukawa had five points in the quarter to keep his side in the race while Mitchell had snared eight of his teams 21 rebounds to that point but the shooting numbers were still down at 33% from the floor.

The final quarter showed the fight that the Breakers will require this season as they tried everything to stay with the Bullets - in fact the score over the final three quarters was 63 each. That fight was best highlighted in a winning rebound count of 33-31 (Mitchell with 11), and five blocked shots - three from Vukona.

But the first quarter hole was too deep to get out of and a final shooting percentage of 38% from the floor and 35% from long range was not going to get the job done against a well-honed Bullets lineup.

SKYCITY Breakers 77

Raukawa 13, Rusbatch 12, Vukona 10, Woodside 9, Mitchell 8 & 11, Pledger 8,

Brisbane Bullets 86

Kenyon 13, Beal 13, Craig 12

- This story has been automatically published using a media release from Basketball New Zealand