The New Zealand Breakers' path to a home semifinal has become more precarious after a tense 89-83 defeat to Melbourne United tonight.
Coming into the game in second spot on the Australian NBL ladder, the Breakers have dropped back to fourth following the tight loss – a defeat which saw them go scoreless in the last six minutes to blow a big lead. It swiftly sums up the competitiveness of the NBL playoff picture, with the top four teams so close that one rough spell can have a big impact on the ladder.
The Breakers now hold a 15-10 record, with Melbourne having built a buffer atop the ladder at 18-7. The two sides are a strong possibility of meeting in the semifinals – something all fans would surely be pleased to see after their most recent battle.
In one of the games of the season, Melbourne came back from eight points down in the fourth quarter to run down the Breakers at the death. It capped off a game which was frenetic from the outset, with the Breakers setting the early running.
Sixteen of Edgar Sosa's 22 points came in the first quarter, as he knocked down four threes to give the up-tempo Breakers an early lead. Rob Loe, inserted after 37 seconds after Alex Pledger copped a knee to the ribs, also found success from deep, while DJ Newbill threw down some thunderous dunks as the Breakers built a double digit advantage.
While the Breakers were knocking down threes, Melbourne were getting to the free-throw line. Casper Ware hit 15 freebies as part of a 26 point display, and it kept the hosts in the contest as they stayed aggressive attacking the basket.
Ware started to get support from his big men, while import swingman Carrick Felix threw down a nasty dunk on Tom Abercrombie as the game continued to be played at maximum intensity. The Breakers had no fear, having won 10 of their last 11 meetings with Melbourne, and that streak looked set to continue when they built an eight point lead in the final period.
However, Tai Wesley and Josh Boone stepped up for United, profiting from the tiring Breakers big men to capitalise inside. As they dominated, the flow of points dried up for the Breakers; missing their last eight shots as their hopes of victory were swept away.
They have a chance to get revenge on Sunday in Auckland, where Melbourne haven't won since 2014.
Melbourne 89 (Ware 26, Wesley 19)
Breakers 83 (Sosa 22, Loe 11)