By Boden Westover, Pagemasters
The New Zealand Breakers have held on to beat a Jonny Flynn-less Melbourne Tigers 79-74 in a thriller at Hisense Arena on Sunday afternoon.
Out-scoring the Tigers by 20 points in the second quarter behind the point guard play of Cedric Jackson and shooting of Daryl Corletto, the Breakers resisted a gallant Tigers comeback in the second half to continue their march towards the finals.
New Zealand were carried by Jackson (13 points, 7 assists, 6 rebounds, 4 steals), Corletto (20 points) and Corey Webster (14 points).
The Tigers were exciting in defeat behind Chris Goulding (23 points), Matt Burston (16 points, 9 rebounds) and Nate Tomlinson (5 points, 9 assists)
The Breakers showed their championship credentials in the first half, Jackson orchestrating an offense that takes everyone to his level.
Facing New Zealand's full-court defence, length inside, and the off-ball movement of Mika Vukona (11 points) and Dillon Boucher (7 points), the Tigers needed their impressive depth to stay within one point at the end of the first period.
Hanging around with some nice moves by Burston, athletic drives by Lucas Walker (8 points) and gritty work of Tommy Greer (8 points), the Tigers then fell victim to Jackson in full flight.
Finding the scorching hands of Webster and Corletto for triples and picking three Tigers’ players with Darryl McDonald-like hands, Jackson was mesmerising as he handcrafted a 53-32 Breakers half-time lead, outscoring the Tigers 32-12 in the second quarter.
“They showed in that one quarter why they’re a hell of a basketball team,” Tigers coach Chris Anstey said.
“That was the difference in the game. The floodgates were open and most of their points came in transition.”
Goulding reeled off five quick points to catch New Zealand napping after the break, and soon his teammates were reeling off plays that were nowhere to be seen in the first half, including a monstrous alley-oop from Walker.
Riding 12 third-quarter points by Goulding and a buzzer-beating Burston dunk to claw within 13 points at the last break, Melbourne brought their home crowd to their feet in the final period as they leveled the score with five minutes remaining.
With scoring stalling over the next three minutes, the Breakers held on to their lead with a 60-second possession that featured two Jackson offensive rebounds, ended with a Vukona three-point play, and saw them fizzle over the line after a dominant early showing.
“Obviously we dried up offensively, but defensively was where it started,” Breakers coach Andrej Lemanis said.
“We took our foot off the accelerator. We weren’t ruthless and relentless, which is what we speak about as a team.
"The great thing about this is it’s a playoff scenario, you play here and then you go home, watch some tape and re-work for the next game.”
New Zealand Breakers 79 (Corletto 20, Webster 14, Jackson 13)
Melbourne Tigers 74 (Goulding 23, Burston 16)
Crowd: 5192 at Hisense Arena, Melbourne