Phoenix hold off fast-finishing Breakers
IT has been a weekend of almosts for the New Zealand Breakers. After pushing the Perth Wildcats to the limit to kick off their Round 19 action in the National Basketball League (NBL), the Breakers faced off against SEM Phoenix at Bendigo Basketball Stadium. Although the Phoenix came into the match as the favoured side, there was an opportunity for New Zealand to take advantage of South East Melbourne’s dwindling form of late.
The Phoenix were once the favourites to win it all in season 2021/22, but their last month or so has seen a massive drop in production, and they are in great danger of falling out of finals contention altogether. Thankfully, they were able to keep their postseason hopes alive with a 10-point win over the Breakers, despite New Zealand producing a late charge that ultimately fell short.
New Zealand Breakers
The Breakers kicked off the match the best way they could, with an impressive showing on the offensive end. It has been one of their struggles throughout the season, but they were able to match the output of the opposition. Despite the Phoenix getting off to a red-hot start behind star Mitch Creek, New Zealand rallied behind NBL Next star Ousmane Dieng and skipper Finn Delany to overcome an early deficit and take a marginal lead into quarter time. The second term saw the action many expected coming into the match, as the Phoenix broke away on the scoreboard. New Zealand could not keep up with the visiting side, as the trio of Izayah Le’afa, Xavier Munford and Zhou Qi got the job done with ball in hand with a nice combination of inside and outside scoring. Half time saw the Phoenix take an eight-point lead into the final two quarters of play.
The Phoenix not only continued their second-quarter form, but actually improved upon it in the third period of play. It was a dominant two-way performance, as the Breakers suddenly found themselves struggling to stay in the game. South East Melbourne was able to score with ease, really getting its inside game going and scoring in the paint with ease. On the other hand, New Zealand was faced with suffocating defence, and found it difficult to get any easy baskets. Things went from bad to worse when their bench was hit with a technical and Phoenix skipper Kyle Adnam extending the lead at the free throw line.
Heading into the final term with a 23-point lead, the Phoenix would have been pretty confident that they could cruise home to a nice victory. However, the Breakers had other plans as the likes of Delany and Thomas Abercrombie making things a little bit interesting in the closing minutes of the contest. New Zealand did not give up hope, and while their comeback attempt still fell 10 points short, they would still be proud of the last quarter charge.
For the victors, Munford led the way with 25 points, five rebounds, eight assists and four steals, as his strong debut NBL campaign continues. He has been super impressive in his first season in Phoenix colours, and will be a vital cog in their hopes of sneaking into the finals. Big man Zhou was also firing for South East Melbourne, with 22 points, six boards and four blocks, proving a headache for New Zealand on both ends. For the Breakers, Dieng gave his NBA draft stock a bit of a boost with 22 points off the bench, providing scoring from inside and outside the arc in an extremely promising showing for the young gun.
The NBL action was not finished yet, as the Cairns Taipans found themselves on the receiving end of a massive loss at the hands of Melbourne United, who were as clinical as ever. It was a win that was guided by a powerful third term from the reigning champions, who outscored their opponents 28-10 in the quarter on their way to a whopping 29-point triumph.