Hungry Jack's NBL
Phoenix overcome Iverson's inside dominance
The South East Melbourne Phoenix had no answer for the dominance of New Zealand Breakers’ big man Colton Iverson, but still managed to escape with a 92-85 win on Easter Sunday.
Easter Sunday was a special one for Australian basketball fans. This game was the first Easter Sunday match-up since March 2013, when the Illawarra Hawks hosted the eventual champion Perth Wildcats in Game 2 of the semi-finals.
And while not as immediately significant in a title sense, this match did serve to strengthen the championship pedigree of the Phoenix still minus Keifer Sykes and Dane Pineau, who came away with a gritty 92-85 win over the Breakers at John Cain Arena.
Phoenix coach Simon Mitchell continues to be relatively happy with the progress his team is making this season.
"As part of this league, there are going to be momentum swings. We were up 17 but I didn't feel safe. At the end of the third-quarter we were able to make some changes and kept them to 16 points in the final quarter," Mitchell said.
"I guess last year in our inaugural season we were in most games. I can't remember the exact numbers, but we lost seven games by seven points or less or something. Our ability to close out games was poor, but this year [we have improved].
"We've always rated ourselves with the potential to be really good. Others didn't, that's fine. We don't kid ourselves for a second to believe we are at championship level. Do we have the potential to play for that? Maybe.
"I feel like there are still levels for this group to go to, regardless of people being out. You want to play then you do everything correct. Don't miss out on a play, don't miss out on an assignment."
Breakers coach Dan Shamir was delighted to get what he did out of Iverson on the night, but wanted to see better execution overall.
"I'm happy that he gets those numbers and gets the recognition for how great he is. He can be even better for us," Shamir said.
"Colton's great advantage is making ball guards better. Obviously his presence is big... but his ability to get ball guards open and do the little things, ball screens, is second to none."
"We should have gotten slightly better shots and should have finished today. I think we played definitely in the first quarter very few of our best moments. The ball was moving. That's a good team. One-hundred percent by now everyone knows that. You have to execute better."
The game had gone nearly four minutes before either team had missed a shot, when the Breakers Finn Delany watched a floater go astray.
The Phoenix made their first seven shots, which helped them to a 20-11 lead midway through the first quarter. At that stage, Cam Gliddon had already made a trio of three-pointers. It was 29-17 at quarter-time.
The Phoenix had not lost all season when they had scored 23 points or more in the first quarter. It gave New Zealand head coach Dan Shamir plenty to think about.
There was one part of the floor where the Breakers dominated, solely thanks to one 40-minute era record setting individual. To put it plainly, Colton Iverson was a one-man mountain in the paint.
The Breakers big man had the rare half-time stat line of 16 points and 14 rebounds. With eight more rebounds in the second half, Iverson eclipsed AJ Ogilvy’s 21-rebound mark from 2008, which was the 40-minute NBL record.
As bizarre as it sounds, after Iverson’s monster first half, Phoenix coach Mitchell would have perhaps settled for that.
With Pineau out injured, the Phoenix had no answer for the South Dakota-born Israeli Cup winner.
Despite the Phoenix’s hot shooting (54 per cent from the field and 45 per cent from three-point range), Iverson kept the Breakers in touch, somehow only going into the main break with a six-point deficit (46-40).
Halfway through the third quarter, as New Zealand’s shooting stroke improved to complement Iverson’s productivity, the Breakers inexplicably hit the lead – erasing a game-high 17-point deficit – at 60-59.
Corey Webster continued to work his way into the game after a slow start, on his way to 11 points and four assists in his first game returning from a knee injury.
As did his brother Tai Webster, who finished with 16 points and seven assists. Along with those aforementioned boards, Iverson would also finish the game-high scorer with 26 points. The Breakers enjoyed a 69-67 three quarter-time lead.
Still, it wasn’t enough as South East Melbourne proved to have another charge in them. In particular, it was the veterans who came to the fore for the Phoenix late.
An Adam Gibson three-pointer and Mitch Creek three-point play seconds later turned the game in an instant in the third quarter, helping to re-establish a four-point Phoenix lead with seven minutes left of play. Creek finished with a team-high 24 points and added eight rebounds.
When Kyle Adnam had a second-chance opportunity at a corner three, he didn’t disappoint. Fittingly, it was left to the man who started the Phoenix’s run, Gliddon, to ice the match with two clutch free throws for the seven-point win.
It puts Phoenix (12-8) within sight of crosstown rival Melbourne United for second place ahead of a trip to Wollongong to face the Illawarra Hawks on Friday.
The Breakers enjoy six days off before playing the NBL title favourite Melbourne United on Saturday night back at John Cain Arena.
HUNGRY JACK'S NBL ROUND 12
SOUTH EAST MELBOURNE PHOENIX 92 (Creek 24, Gliddon 18, Wetzell 18)
NEW ZEALAND BREAKERS 85 (Iverson 26, T Webster 16, Delany 15)