THE third round of the National Basketball League (NBL) season resumed with a double-header on Friday night. Proceedings kicked off with the Illawarra Hawks looking to continue their undefeated streak when they hosted the struggling New Zealand Breakers. What resulted was one of the most entertaining clashes of the season, with the match going to double overtime in a thriller, with few expecting the game to be decided in such close fashion. With the two sides enjoying contrasting starts to the seasons (the Hawks were undefeated while the Breakers were yet to secure a win), Illawarra were widely predicted to claim the win, which they were able to do, but New Zealand almost stole the unlikeliest of wins.
New Zealand Breakers
The Breakers stormed out of the gates in the first term, with a stunning opening period that shocked their opponents from the tip-off. The Breakers came out playing in an aggressive manner, scoring the ball with ease. Big man Yannick Wetzell was dominant inside the paint, causing headaches for Illawarra defenders with his ability to get the right body position under the hoop and find the bottom of the net. New Zealand were looking to cause an upset and their first term did no harm to this, as they took a surprising 13-point lead into quarter time, with the basketball world starting to think they had a boilover on their hands.
The second period saw the Hawks deliver more of what we expected, coming out firing after a disappointing start to the game. Led by an impressive effort by their starters, the Hawks were outstanding in the second term as their opponents cooled off. Through some impressive ball movement and tough finishes at the rim, Illawarra dragged themselves back into the contest by working extremely hard at both ends. Despite trailing by 13 at quarter time, the Hawks were able to trim the lead down to two points at the main break and suddenly, it was game on.
The third term saw some extremely close action, with the Hawks able to finally grab the lead before it went back-and-forth for the remainder of the term. Hawks guard Tyler Harvey got really involved in the contest, making some big shots, although neither Illawarra or New Zealand could take a match winning lead. New Zealand youngster Hugo Besson got involved late in the term, converting a tough and-one layup before following this up with a shot from deep with his side’s lead extending to three points heading into the fourth quarter.
The Hawks came out on fire in the fourth term, turning their deficit into a six-point lead in the first half of the quarter. Suddenly, it was the Breakers who were on the brink of losing their grip on the contest. They were able to tie things up over the next few minutes, but the Hawks were able to make what appeared to be a match-winning run with little time remaining. Things looked dire for New Zealand when Harvey hit a long range bomb with just 25 seconds to go to give his side the lead. However, a dunk to William McDowell-White in the dying stages tied up proceedings and the match headed to overtime.
The contest was just as even in the extra periods, with neither side able to truly break away in a demonstration of how evenly matched the teams were. The first overtime saw scoring dry up slightly, with fatigue truly becoming a factor. Wetzell sunk a jump shot in the final 25 seconds of the period to tie the match as the sides headed to double overtime.
In the second overtime period, the lead once again went back-and-forth and it looked as if the match could go either way. When Besson nailed his three-pointer to give his side the lead with just 16 seconds on the clock, it looked as if the contest could be over. However, the game winner came in the form of Harvey, who put up a floater with the softest touch possible to give his side the lead with two seconds left and ultimately win the game to keep their undefeated streak going.
CLOSING THOUGHTS …
For the Hawks, Harvey was the star of the show, with 26 points and eight rebounds in what was a true display of leadership from the star guard. He was well assisted by teammate Justinian Jessup, who poured in 21 points of his own, while league MVP contender Duop Reath ended up finishing with 19 points for the Hawks. For the Breakers, Wetzell (25 points) and Besson (20) were nearly able to produce match-winning performances, but ultimately fell short.