Hungry Jack's NBL
Heroic Hopson Strengthens Breakers' Finals Push
Just call Scotty Hopson the heart-Breaker. Just weeks after dropping the final second basket that sunk the Brisbane Bullets, he did it again on Friday night at Nissan Arena in a 91-87 win that could just seal a Finals spot for the New Zealand Breakers.
It was sudden-death basketball for the Breakers with their season on the line and on the road. The equation was simple, win or go home but it was never going to be easy against a Bullets team on a six-game winning run.
However, the Breakers had been in stunning form themselves winning four of the last five with that loss one that got away in Perth so both teams entered in hot form.
The game certainly delivered an early playoff preview in terms of intensity.
The visitors surrendered a 10-0 start, weathered a three-point storm from the Bullets and left everything on the court.
Hopson (31 points, seven rebounds, four assists, two steals) engineered a stunning win to snap the late 6-0 run that had seemingly secured Brisbane a place in the #NBL20 playoffs that included a huge Lamar Patterson three.
Now, things are far from certain but it sure is going to provide a fascinating finish.
The win improves the Breakers to 14-13 and they play the South East Melbourne Phoenix in Christchurch next Friday. Win that and they go to 15-13 and it puts the pressure right back on Brisbane.
The Bullets are now 14-12 and while they could win their last two games and extinguish New Zealand hopes, winning in Perth on Sunday or at home to Cairns next Saturday are significant challenges.
With the Breakers holding a superior percentage, either way the Bullets need to finish with one more win from here.
It was more than just a win for an emotional New Zealand roster that have been playing busted all season and were largely without Jarrad Weeks on Friday with his shoulder complaint.
"We've been through a lot, we came here and played with basically six players, started 10-0 down," Breakers coach Dan Shamir said.
"In terms of the basketball it was a late in the season playoff game ... obviously we were very happy to finish on the winning side."
An emotional and determined Hopson backed his coach.
"We've been resilient all season," he said.
"The ups and downs, we've been through a lot. I'm just glad to be in this locker room with these guys fighting each and every day - it showed in our performance today."
It was a furious encounter that had all the hallmarks of a playoff contest and the packed house at The Armoury had all crammed in for the ding-dong matchup between MVP candidates Hopson and Patterson.
Patterson was crippled by foul trouble, grinding his way to 18 points but spending too much time on the bench despite hitting a huge late three. Hopson, though, was clutch, but not alone.
Finn Delaney had 15 points and 12 boards in a monstrous performance which included a tough finish at the rim to seal the win after Hopson found him on a brilliant pass.
Sek Henry added 15 points, Tom Abercrombie 11 points and seven rebounds, and Brandon Ashley 10 points and five rebounds.
Nathan Sobey had a season-high 30 points that included five triples off 50 per cent long-range shooting. He was joined by fellow sharpshooter Jason Cadee who shot 5/7 on his way to 14.
But Matt Hodgson fouled out in the final quarter while Patterson was left stranded on four fouls trying to guard Hopson which proved the Bullets’ undoing.
Bullets coach Andrej Lemanis was not kicking stones after being beaten in an intense game of basketball, but knows the job ahead is tough.
"You want to be in this situation, you want to be playing meaningful games," Lemanis said.
"Tonight was always going to be a tough battle and we had our chances ... it's important that we put this behind us now and go on to Perth and come out and play how we need to play to give ourselves a chance to be successful."
The dream 10-0 start from the Bullets quickly evaporated as Hopson became impossible to guard.
After only shooting 1/7 from long range in the early exchanges, the Breakers caught fire from range as they banged in five more triples to not only get back in the match but extend their lead to five.
The job became harder for the Bullets as Patterson collected his third foul early in the third quarter while Hodgson picked up his fourth - with almost a full half left to play.
The Bullets surged ahead once more through the hot hand of Sobey but this was a dogged Breakers outfit that refused to go away and an eight-point run had the scores level once more.
Heading into the final stretch the Breakers had a slender two-point lead and Hopson was sublime down the stretch, ensuring New Zealand remain in the hunt for post-season action.
NBL ROUND 19
BRISBANE BULLETS 87 (Sobey 30, Patterson 18, Cadee 14)
NEW ZEALAND BREAKERS 91 (Hopson 31, Delany 15, Henry 15)