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Gritty Breakers smother United

New Zealand has opened their season with a gritty 76-71 victory over Melbourne United at Vector Arena on Friday. In a scrappy game underpinned by defence, the Breakers put in a sparkling 28-point fourth term to secure the win as star scorer Corey Webster caught fire late to hold Melbourne at bay. Playing in front of a 5,600-strong crowd, this was a fresh start for the Breakers both on and off the court. With new management, new coaches and a new-look playing roster – including two new imports Ben Woodside and Akil Mitchell, along with the return of Kirk Penney – the Breakers showed they are as physical as ever. Breakers coach Paul Henare lauded his team after the game for a solid opening night win. "It was good to see the guys on the floor and the chemistry happening," he said post-game. "We knew we were facing a very good side and we had to play good basketball to beat them and that’s what I’m proud of." The Breakers settled quickly into the game and headed into the first break with a one-point lead, extending it quickly in the second quarter with Webster and Thomas Abercrombie triples. Following a timeout toward the end of second quarter, the Breakers came back in force with Woodside popping a three-pointer late in the shot clock, quickly followed by an Abercrombie score as the home side went into the main break up 40-31. Melbourne shot out of the half with five quick points on Cedric Jackson and Chris Goulding jumpers, while bigmen David Anderson and Tai Wesley followed suit. In just 80 seconds midway through the quarter, the visitors turned a seven-point deficit into a two-point lead, which they extended to four by three-quarter time. That's when Webster – who has battled a hip injury throughout the off-season – caught fire, with eight points in under two minutes as the home side took a 61-54 lead with 5:46 on the clock. Breakers power forward Mika Vukona (12 points, four rebounds) made all-court plays down the stretch, with six points, an assist and crucial boards. United kept the margin tight to the wire, but Abercrombie, Vukona and Woodside were all ice cool from the charity stripe as the Breakers maintained the buffer. After the game United coach Dean Demopoulos said the Breakers played, "one hell of a game of basketball", while his point guard Jackson said "minor tune-ups" were needed. Top scorers for Melbourne were two former Breakers in Wesley (15 points on 4/4 from downtown) and Jackson, who posted a double-double of 14 points and 13 rebounds. Melbourne heads home to play Illawarra on Sunday, while the Breakers travel to the Jungle for a grand final replay with the Wildcats next Friday. NEW ZEALAND BREAKERS 76 (Thomas Abercrombie 14, Mika Vukona 12, Corey Webster 11) MELBOURNE UNITED 71 (Tai Wesley 15, Cedric Jackson 14, Ramone Moore 9, David Andersen 9, Chris Goulding 9) BOX SCORE
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