By Paulo Kennedy, Pagemasters
Tip-off: Monday, April 1, 2:00pm (local), Sydney Entertainment Centre
Broadcast: Sky Sports (New Zealand); NBL.TV (live to mobile, simulcast to web); ONE, 10:30pm (local)
Last time they met: New Zealand 81 (Abercrombie 15, Corletto 12, Jackson 11) d Sydney 64 (Madgen 15, Harvey 10), Semi Final 1, Vector Arena, Auckland
While some Kings fans might like to forget about their 17-point loss in Game 1, after watching the tape coach Shane Heal believes his players need to see how their strays from the game-plan cost them dearly.
“The guys understand 100 per cent what they have to do, it’s just a matter of being tough enough and disciplined enough to do it under pressure,” Heal said.
“When you play against guys like Mika Vukona, Boucher and Abercrombie, they are very good at disrupting you, so if you try and take shortcuts you get exposed.”
One of the key areas for Heal was the lack of presence from his big men.
“I was disappointed overall with our bigs, I thought Tommy (Garlepp) did a good job but I didn’t think the other bigs did a great job of sealing and being aggressive inside,” he said.
“If you do that you get the opposition in foul trouble, you get to the foul line more and you suck them in, so you open up the perimeter game.”
The Kings’ defence was also uncharacteristically lax at times, allowing Cedric Jackson and New Zealand’s other guards access to the middle driving lane.
“We’ve been great at that for the majority of the year, particularly against New Zealand because we clog it up so well to take Jackson out of it,” Heal said.
“But he had three middle penetrations that are just unlike what we do.”
Perhaps most disappointingly, the Kings didn’t spread the New Zealand defence and punish breakdowns like they had earlier in the season.
“It’s detail and it’s reading where their rotations are coming from,” Heal said.
“Sometimes they’ll double team, sometimes they’ll hard hedge or switch, so it’s about reading what the defence is doing and then being able to penalise them, no matter what they're doing.”
But Heal says it won’t all be negative, rather a case of combining what worked in previous match-ups with solutions to what went wrong on Thursday.
“We certainly won't be playing with our tail between our legs, but it’s certainly a challenge to hit these issues on the head,” he said.
The Kings had just two scorers in double figures on Thursday night, as they have in seven of their losses this season. In wins they average four players with 10 points or more.
Sydney kept New Zealand to eight offensive rebounds in Game 1, their second-lowest total this season, despite them missing 35 field-goals attempts. Three of the Breakers’ eight-lowest offensive rebounding totals in 29 games this season have been against Sydney.
New Zealand shot 26 free throws in Game 1 and average 21 in wins this season. In their four losses they have averaged just 11 attempts from the charity stripe.
Dillon Boucher had six assists and five rebounds on Thursday. New Zealand are 19-0 the past two seasons, with an average winning margin of 16.3 points when Boucher has multiple assists and offensive boards.
The Kings will be full of confidence knowing they have troubled New Zealand on home soil this year, and that a lot of their issues on Thursday were self-inflicted.
But with Corin Henry, James Harvey and Ian Crosswhite limited, Sydney lack the depth to maintain composure over 40 minutes against New Zealand’s relentless and intelligent pressure.
Their only hope is execution, which forces the Breakers into a more reactive defensive game-plan, and that must start with Crosswhite and Darnell Lazare making things happen.
If they can get New Zealand’s help defence to collapse, then Harvey and Ben Madgen will get some much-needed open looks.
All that is easier said than done, however, with the Breakers featuring 10 players committed to defensive shutdowns every time they take the floor.
Prediction: Breakers by 6