By Grant Chapman, Pagemasters
The defending champion New Zealand Breakers reminded the league that Vector Arena will be a tough place to steal the title from this season, thumping the second-placed Perth Wildcats 98-81 on Friday night.
A sold-out crowd of 9200 witnessed the spectacle as the home side extended their winning streak to 10 thanks to American Cedric Jackson who compiled 22 points including four three-pointers, eight assists, five rebounds and five steals.
CJ Bruton and Corey Webster added 14 points each, while Tom Abercrombie (12 points, five rebounds) continued hid resurgent form.
Matt Knight had 16 points, six rebounds and three assists for the Wildcats, while Jesse Wagstaff (14 points) and Shawn Redhage (12 points, 7 assists, 4 rebounds) provided support.
Perth were actually quickest out of the blocks, opening the contest with a 14-2 run that gave them the advantage for much of the half.
Redhage led the charge with seven early points, but the game changed when both he and Mika Vukona drew two quick fouls.
The titleholders exploded into the lead late in the second period, pulling within one on a Leon Henry three and taking the lead with a pair of Daryl Corletto strikes from the arc that had the crowd rocking.
The ensuing 15-2 run carried the champions clear and although Wagstaff stopped the rot briefly from afar, Jackson slotted two threes – one from a couple of metres beyond the arc as the shot clock wound down – to present his team with a 52-42 half-time advantage.
“That kind of summed the whole night up,” said Perth coach Rob Beveridge.
“The basketball gods were on his side tonight. If he hadn’t hit those shots, it’s only four points at halftime. They shot the ball really, really well tonight.”
The Wildcats threatened to rally early in the third, with Redhage and Knight working efficiently inside, but following a pair of Bruton triples the Breakers hammered the point home, amassing a 63-37 advantage across the middle quarters.
“They went to another level in the second quarter and we didn’t match it for about 10 minutes,” said Redhage.
“That gave them a lot of confidence, and when they’re moving the ball and getting up good shots, they’re a machine.”
The margin stretched to 23 points late in the third quarter and Perth were never likely to climb out of a hole that deep.
A key to the turnaround was on the boards, where the Wildcats have traditionally dominated the Breakers. But on this night New Zealand muscled their way to a 37-26 advantage.
“It was the first time in a long time that we won the boards,” said Breakers coach Andrej Lemanis.
“When you play Perth, that’s an area of focus and it’s how they stay alive in games. We knew if we could just arrest that, it would give us an opportunity to compete in this game.”
New Zealand Breakers 98 (Jackson 22, Bruton 14, Webster 14, Abercrombie 12, Hudson 11)
Perth Wildcats 81 (Knight 16, Wagstaff 14, Redhage 12)
Crowd: 9200 at Vector Arena, Auckland