By Grant Chapman, Pagemasters
Breakers stalwart Dillon Boucher got the North Shore Events Centre send-off he so richly deserved as his team hammered the visiting Melbourne Tigers 114-84 extending their winning streak to 16 games.
The last survivor of the original Breakers roster, this was Boucher’s final appearance at the club’s spiritual home and was obliged to give even more than usual to help his side’s cause.
After trailing through the opening quarter, the titleholders erased that deficit with 10 unanswered points to start the second and then dominated either side of half-time to seal the game.
Breakers forward Tom Abercrombie led all scorers with 24 points, supported by Alex Pledger’s 22-point, 12-rebound double-double and Corey Webster’s career-high 23 points as the Breakers shot 57 per cent from the field and achieved a 60-42 scoring advantage in the paint..
For Melbourne, Chris Goulding had 22 points with Lucas Walker scoring 14.
The Breakers suffered an early blow, when inspirational forward Mika Vukona crumbled to the floor with an ankle injury, extending Boucher’s involvement.
"Mika's such a tough kid, it was a concern to see him unable to walk off," admitted Breakers coach Andrej Lemanis.
"He wanted to come back on, but he was told that wasn't smart. It was good for us to experience something like this - numbers down, foul trouble, people playing in different positions. It was good to go through this challenge and see how we respond."
Melbourne showed they were not about to just roll over, scoring 34 points in the opening term to take a four-point lead.
As the game wore on, Goulding became their “go-to” guy, keeping them in contention with a pair of three-pointers during the second quarter.
But the Breakers were getting plenty of mileage from their younger players – Webster giving an offensive clinic as he equalled his career-best output (14 points) by half-time.
A nine-point roll just before the break eased the home side out to a double-figure advantage and they extended that to 20 points with a 12-2 run to start the third period.
"I didn't think we fought," lamented Tigers coach Chris Anstey.
"To give up 114 points in 40minutes is so far from acceptable, it's ridiculous. We scored well in the first half, but just couldn't stop them. To have a team shoot 72 per cent from inside the three-point arc is just about unheard of.
"It showed a lack of contested defence. It showed we were soft and didn't compete."
With the contest effectively decided the game turned into a highlight reel, both teams showing off some sublime passing and aerial play as the home team cruised past the 100-point mark with their bench on the floor.
It was a fitting tribute to Boucher, one of the most respected players in the league.
"He's the consummate role player," observed Anstey, who had battled against him many times for club and country.
"He will do whatever it takes to win. If you walked into a gym and had to pick someone to score, you wouldn't pick him. If you had to pick someone to rebound, you wouldn't pick him - he's a basketball player, as simple as that, and as smart as they come."
New Zealand Breakers 114 (Abercrombie 24, C Webster 23, Pledger 22, Te Rangi 13)
Melbourne Tigers 84 (Goulding 22, Walker 14, Scott 12)
Crowd: 4000 at North Shore Events Centre