By Grant Chapman, Pagemasters
The New Zealand Breakers got their title defence safely underway with an 81-64 home win over Sydney Kings at Vector Arena on Thursday.
The result gives the champions a one-game lead in the best-of-three series, with the second game scheduled for Monday in Sydney.
MVP Cedric Jackson (11 points, 9 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 steals) was his usual self, while forward Tom Abercrombie had 15 points for the home team, including a series of three-pointers and a spectacular dunk in the latter stages that helped secure the victory.
Daryl Corletto had 12 points for the Breakers, and Ben Madgen matched Abercrombie’s output for the Kings.
After dropping the opening games of their successful playoff campaigns the past two seasons, New Zealand made no mistake this time and never trailed.
"We'd much rather be in this position," said Abercrombie.
"We're in control, which is good, but we can't take the foot off. We're going to their place on Monday and we need to take it to another level. It's a job half done."
After an even opening quarter the Breakers opened up their first double-figure advantage when Corey Webster drove to the basket, and Jackson was underlining his MVP credentials with a series of spectacular drives that often ended in dunks.
The Kings weren’t broken yet – centre Ian Crosswhite had a three-point play and James Harvey connected from the arc to reduce the deficit to manageable proportions.
But in trying to match their opponents’ intensity the visitors had fallen into foul trouble and allowed the Breakers to edge away again from the charity stripe. They shot 15-of-18 for the half and enjoyed a 42-31 advantage at the break.
Sydney came out strong in the third, but when Tom Abercrombie dropped three long bombs late in the period the Breakers’ lead was 18. Madgen matched both times, but his team had stopped making headway.
"We were great at the defensive end," explained Lemanis.
"We got into it at that end of the floor, by disrupting them and making them shoot contested shots. To keep them to 64 points was a great effort."
The result went beyond doubt early in the fourth quarter when centre Alex Pledger imposed himself on the game, converting an offensive board into points and then hitting a pair of free throws to stretch the lead beyond 20.
At the defensive end, he then rejected Darnel Lazare to break Ben Pepper’s single-season club record for blocks.
An outburst from Harvey towards the end was too little too late for the Kings, who must now find another level if they are to force a Game 3 next week.
"We certainly won't get our heads down about this game," reflected Sydney coach Shane Heal.
"The big positive for us from this game was the possession game. New Zealand are one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the league and they force the most turnovers.
"Last time we played them, they had 20 more field-goal attempts than us - tonight was about even. We just didn't do a good job of executing to give ourselves a chance to win."
New Zealand Breakers 81 (Abercrombie 15, Corletto 12, Jackson 11, Vukona 10)
Sydney Kings 64 (Madgen 15, Harvey 10)
Crowd: 8314 at Vector Arena, Auckland