By Chris Pike, Pagemasters
The New Zealand Breakers have beaten the Perth Wildcats 70-66 in an amazing second game of the grand final series to claim a third straight NBL championship.
The Breakers become just the second team in history after the Sydney Kings to win a three-peat of NBL championships and it took an epic game in front of 13,527 inside Perth Arena for them to do so.
New Zealand have now beaten Perth in the semi-final series of 2011 and the grand finals the past two seasons to cement themselves as one of the greatest NBL teams of all-time.
Despite the Breakers leading by 11 points at three-quarter-time and still by eight with just over three minutes to go, the Wildcats never gave in as Shawn Redhage and Cedric Jackson exchanged huge three-pointers.
Clutch free-throws from Greg Hire with 28 seconds to go had Perth within a point, but ultimately it was CJ Bruton who iced the win to claim his record-equalling sixth NBL championship.
Bruton finished with 16 points for the Breakers including an incredible 4-of-5 from three-point territory.
Cedric Jackson added 14 points, six rebounds, five assists and three steals to claim the Larry Sengstock Medal for Grand Final MVP, while Daryl Corletto was also outstanding with 11 points.
Alex Pledger had eight points and seven boards and the athletic Tom Abercrombie pulled in a spectacular 11 rebounds.
Three-time Breakers championship-winning coach Andrej Lemanis couldn’t hide his pride for his group.
"They are all different and special in their own way and this is my first time winning on the road so that's a different experience. Obviously I am very proud of the group and humbled to be their coach with such a great team," Lemanis said.
"To go through that pain again, go through another pre-season and connect with your teammates again, and to play different roles and to be prepared to sacrifice for the good of the team and go through that again to put yourself in a position again and again, means that they are pretty special.
"Our club is made up special people from the ownership right down the management, support staff, coaching staff and obviously the players."
Shawn Redhage and Kevin Lisch both scored 14 points each for the Wildcats with Jesse Wagstaff adding 10. Greg Hire finished off an outstanding season with seven points and 10 rebounds.
Wildcats coach Rob Beveridge was just as proud of his team as well despite the loss.
"My emotions are mainly pride. I just sat there looking at the fight that we put in and that was just so tremendous. Our backs were to the wall and we just fought and fought and fought, and never ever gave in," Beveridge said.
"We gave ourselves a chance and nearly put it into overtime. That was one of the most brutal games that I have ever been involved with and it was two competitive teams going for it with nobody giving an inch at all. It was a tremendous battle and New Zealand got over the line."
The Breakers got the fast start in enemy territory thanks to Abercrombie, but it was see-sawing first quarter until Bruton caught fire with two big threes for the Breakers.
However, a late three of his own to Redhage had the Wildcats only one-point down at quarter-time and then they burst five points clear early in the second period.
New Zealand hung tough though, and a Jackson-to-Abercrombie alley-oop just before half-time saw scores levelled at 29.
If the first half was intense the third quarter took it to a whole other level. The Breakers began by hitting the first 11 points to lead 40-29 as the Wildcats were held scoreless for five minutes before two free-throws to Lisch.
Things spilled over when Corletto and Lisch again became entangled and players from both sides ran to get involved. It sparked the Wildcats briefly back into action as the margin was back to five points, but the Breakers had all the answers and were 11 up by three quarter-time.
The Wildcats got back instantly into the game when Bartlett scored and then immediately Redhage added another two on a turnover. Bruton answered with a huge three for New Zealand, sparking an incredible final period.
Lisch, Wagstaff and Redhage hit big triples for the Wildcats and Jackson two of his own at the other end. The Wildcats refused to go away and after Hire's free-throws were back within a point with 28 seconds to go.
However, Redhage missed a desperation shot for Perth and Bruton went on to be ice cool from the free-throw line to seal the win.
New Zealand Breakers 70 (Bruton 16, Jackson 14, Corletto 11)
Perth Wildcats 66 (Lisch 14, Redhage 14, Wagstaff 10)
Crowd: 13,527 at Perth Arena