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GAME REPORT

Breakers Hold Out Taipans in Cairns Heartstopper

The New Zealand Breakers continue to be the great enigma of the NBL but they delivered three strong quarters on Monday night in the Tropical Far North to hold out the Cairns Taipans in a thrilling finish 84-83.

The Breakers hadn’t played since a 19-point loss to the Sydney Kings eight days ago and that was just four days following their stunning 23-point victory over the Illawarra Hawks.

They put both the best and worst of those performances all into one game at the Cairns Convention Centre on Monday night. But the good of their first, second and fourth quarters was enough to stave off the stunning third period of the Taipans.

New Zealand dominated the first half with Peyton Siva running the point and Yanni Wetzell on the inside dominant, and unstoppable, forces. The Breakers led by as much as 26 points but by three quarter-time, remarkably the Snakes were two points down and could have gone in front at the buzzer.

The Breakers were able to steady in the fourth term to go back up eight, and they led 84-72 with 3:50 to go. However, they didn’t score again. 

Bul Kuol knocked down two threes for Cairns, Stephen Zimmerman's and-one made it a one-point game but the Taipans couldn’t quite get over the hump with the Breakers breathing a huge of sigh of relief holding on by a point.

It was a monstrous night from Breakers centre Yanni Wetzell finishing with 23 points, 14 rebounds, seven steals and four assists on 8/12 shooting from the floor and a perfect 7/7 from the free-throw line.

Peyton Siva stepped up huge for New Zealand too with 22 points while Hugo Besson added 14 points and four assists, Chasson Randle 10 points, and Finn Delany eight points before fouling out.

Breakers coach Dan Shamir was relieved to come away with the win with work to do on the third quarter, it sure beat the alternative of losing and trying to fix it.

"Obviously they were two very different halves, but specifically the third quarter. It had everything in this game," Shamir said. 

"The beginning was really good with shot-making, execution, good defence and we were smart to take control of the game. We played really well. The third quarter was a total disaster on so many levels and therefore it's great to pull a win with a lot of heart and big effort plays down the stretch. 

"No game usually goes easy the whole way, usually teams have their runs but for so many reasons we didn’t have the consistency in the second half. But it is much better than to talk about that and try to correct it after a win."

Majok Deng delivered another 21 points and eight rebounds for Cairns with Keanu Pinder finishing with the 16 points, four boards and two blocks, but without his first half it's scary how far the Snakes might have been down.

Taipans coach Adam Forde didn’t need to say anything at half-time except implore his troops to do what he asked before the game.

"I don’t think it was anything I said. I don't know. This is the crazy thing is that there was nothing we could draw up on the whiteboard that we hadn’t gone through already," Forde said.

"We didn’t decide to go zone or trap the on-ball or hard show, we just knuckled down on what works for us defensively and picked it up a little bit more in the full court. The game plan that we spoke about at half-time was the one that we rolled into the start of the game with. The difference was effort."

After the scores were locked at 5-5 early, it was all the Breakers as they put the clamps on the Snakes while catching fire themselves. They went on a stunning 13-0 run including triples to Chasson Randle and Peyton Siva to silence the Orange Army.

It was Keanu Pinder who provided the spark for Cairns to stop the rot with six quick points but it didn’t slow New Zealand up the other end. Yanni Wetzell ended up with eight opening quarter points and then Siva and Hugo Besson connected from deep again for the 30-12 quarter-time lead.

Pinder and Majok Deng stepped up to give the Taipans the opening four points of the second term but the Breakers responded with a three-point play to Kyrin Galloway. Wetzell took over the game further down low with the Breakers' next nine points.

His and-one play sparked another 11-0 run for the Breakers to put them up 50-25 with 2:45 left in the half. Pinder continued to be the shining light for the Snakes, but a Besson triple shortly before half-time ensured New Zealand was still up 55-35.

If Taipans coach Adam Forde was lost for what to say to inspire his group at half-time, it didn’t show because the game underwent the most remarkable of turnarounds, beginning with five quick points to Jordan Ngatai.

That turned into Cairns putting up the opening 13 points of the half and it took almost four minutes for the Breakers to score their first field goal through Siva.

Siva then also drained his third three of the game to stretch things back out to a nine-point lead, but the Snakes now had the momentum. Mirko Djeric connected from downtown and the home team closed the quarter with the last five points to cut New Zealand's lead to 69-67.

The rollercoaster ride continued and New Zealand was able to get back on top to end up back 12 on the back of a Siva three-pointer and free-throws from himself and Wetzell.

However, the Snakes weren’t done with yet and back-to-back threes from Bul Kuol suddenly had Cairns back within four with 1:18 remaining and the stage was set for a grandstand finish.

It happened too. The Breakers continued to keep the Taipans in the game with ill-advised three-point attempts and the Snakes had their chances. An and-one from Stephen Zimmerman had them back within one and Scott Machado had possession for the last play with his team down one.

He ended up taking a mid-range step back jumper with time running out, it didn’t fall and the Breakers held on for the dramatic win.

The Taipans now head to Wollongong to take on the Illawarra Hawks on Friday while the Breakers don't play again until Sunday against Melbourne United at John Cain Arena.

HUNGRY JACK'S NBL ROUND 11

CAIRNS TAIPANS 83 (Deng 21, Pinder 16, Zimmerman 11)

NEW ZEALAND BREAKERS 84 (Wetzell 23, Siva 22, Besson 14) 

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