Hungry Jack's NBL
Phoenix Overcome Brave Fighting Breakers Effort
They may have lost the match, but the New Zealand Breakers would have won plenty of admirers in their brave loss to South East Melbourne Phoenix at John Cain Arena on Friday night.
Already missing inspirational skipper Tom Abercrombie, the Breakers were dealt a savage blow during the week with import guard Jeremiah Martin ruled out with an ankle injury sustained in training. If that wasn't bad enough, the battling Breakers then lost fellow import Peyton Siva to a hamstring complaint early in the first quarter.
After being belted by 24 points by the Phoenix just last week, few would have given the Breakers a chance here. But through sheer determination, the New Zealand outfit fought back from a 13-point deficit to level the scores in the final quarter. In the end, they just ran out of legs.
Australian Boomer Mitch Creek was at his influential best in the win, stuffing the stat sheet with a career-high 36 points including 6/7 from the three-point line.
Xavier Munford (17 points, six assists) delivered key plays in the final quarter to halt the Breakers resistance, while captain Kyle Adnam (16 points, three assists) provided plenty of support off the bench with points, rebounds and assists.
While Creek statistically had his best NBL game to date, he said the Phoenix will need to address their Dr Jeckyll and Mr Hyde performances ahead of their clash with cross-city rivals Melbourne on Sunday.
"I was a little bit disappointed in some areas. In saying that, we kept the scoreboard ticking over. Whereas last week our offence sucked and our defence was awesome," Creek said.
"This week our defence sucked and our offence was awesome. We've got to try and put them all together and we will be a lot happier."
Phoenix coach Simon Mitchell poured petrol on the fire ahead of Sunday's Throwdown by declaring he doesn't like United.
"It's a great event, but we don't like each other. I don't like them. It's an organisation I respect highly and had many wonderful years in, but I like us," Mitchell said.
"I really want success for our team, our players, our front office, all of our workers and our fans. Melbourne is one of those teams that stand in front of what I want for our people. They p*** me off."
Hugo Besson (26 points, eight rebounds), Finn Delany (23 points, including five triples) and Yanni Wetzell (18 points, four rebounds) were huge contributors, but they were also joined by William McDowell-White (11 points, five rebounds, six assists) and French teenager Ousmane Dieng (eight points, six rebounds).
New Zealand coach Dan Shamir is unclear on when he will get his three stars back but was impressed with the fight his remaining players showed.
"Unfortunately we are off to a rough start going 0-2 in our first two games, but we fought. A lot of people left everything they had on the floor, in that, we can be satisfied," Shamir said.
"We have to dig in more and find ways to some of our (players) out there and mainly to play hard and fight and get some wins until we are in full power. We will get them back eventually and we really need them."
Delany opened the scoring with a statement dunk but Creek and Ryan Broekhoff found their radar early with consecutive triples to get the Phoenix rolling. It ignited a three-point party as Hugo Besson designed to join in from range to keep his side within striking distance.
Already missing Martin, the Breakers were dealt a hammer blow in the first quarter when Siva limped from the court with a hamstring injury and did not return.
Creek upped the ante with his third consecutive triple launched from NBA range and the Phoenix pushed their lead out to seven.
Wetzell was toiling hard against his former side with points for the quarter, but another long-range triple - this time from Adnam - was a dagger to the Breakers who went into the first break trailing 35-22.
There was no white flag forthcoming from the Breakers and McDowell-White provided the spark they needed with an enormous dunk that left Phoenix coach Simon Mitchell fuming at his charges.
McDowell-White was launching a one-man assault against the odds and the Breakers weathered the storm as back-to-back Wetzell buckets cut the margin to just three points after trailing by as many as 13.
When Delany cut to the basket for a three-point play including a foul shot, he was roaring at the crowd. He then splashed an unlikely triple under pressure to cut the margin to just one point. Halftime couldn't come quick enough for the Phoenix who had a 48-45 lead, but it was the Breakers with all the momentum.
The injection of Next Star Dieng reaped immediate rewards as the Breakers briefly locked up the scores and were threatening a boilover result. Creek was providing plenty of headaches for the Breakers, but they refused to go away. As the Phoenix started to skip clear again, a Delany triple slashed the margin once more.
Heading into the final quarter, the Phoenix held a slender three-point cushion but the Breakers were ensuring it was going to be a grandstand finish.
Dieng was living up to his hype and his influence helped the Breakers lock up the scores once more. Someone needed to provide Creek with support and Izayah Le'afa provided the spark for his side with consecutive baskets to push the Phoenix back out in front.
He was also influential on the defensive end, drawing a charge foul to stop a rampaging Besson.
Even when the game appeared lost again, Besson didn't stop believing as he splashed a triple to keep his side within range in the dying seconds of the match. In the end, it was a Zhou Qi dunk and another Creek triple that finally put the Breakers to bed and ensured that the Phoenix remain at the top of the #NBL22 ladder.
HUNGRY JACK'S NBL ROUND 2
SOUTH EAST MELBOURNE PHOENIX 95 (Creek 36, Munford 17, Adnam 16)
NEW ZEALAND BREAKERS 88 (Besson 26, Delany 23, Wetzell 18)