Hungry Jack's NBL
R18 Wrap: Jackson, Breakers reignite Championship fire
Just seven days ago the New Zealand Breakers appeared to be on the NBL’s scrap heap. Fast forward two games and the reigning Champions have their mojo back, ready for a swing at yet another NBL crown. Their leader, Cedric Jackson, does not know what missing the Finals feels like. In fact, in every season the American has played in the NBL he has won a Championship. They aren’t safe yet, but can take comfort from knowing they have the League’s most time-proven clutch player running the show. Meanwhile, the Adelaide 36ers will be desperate to regain Jerome Randle for the battle with New Zealand for fourth spot, and United find themselves one game clear atop the ladder after the penultimate round. New Zealand Breakers 106 def Adelaide 36ers 84, Titanium Security Arena Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good. Whether it was luck or all part of Cedric Jackson’s grand plan, the Breakers point guard torched the Sixers in their first full game without Jerome Randle, landing seven three-pointers (his previous best in a game was five) on his way to a game-high and season-high 31 points, plus 10 boards and six assists. A week ago the champs looked resigned to missing the Finals for the first time in Jackson’s NBL career. They had been subjected to six-straight defeats and there were rumours of discord among the group, but they hit back the way champions do to post three wins on the trot. This wire-to-wire victory was by far the most impressive of the three and guaranteed a season series win over Adelaide. The Breakers’ magic number was 15 – meaning they had to win by at least that number to snatch the crucial season series from the Sixers, which could be the only thing separating these sides after all 28 games are played. The Breakers had it working from the opening tip, scoring 11 of the game’s first 13 points, while after that the lead never got below five points. Corey Webster had an efficient 28 points, and Alex Pledger chipped in a handy 17 (5/6 FGs, 7/7 FTs). Ebi Ere (nine points) failed to fire as Mitch Creek top-scored for the hosts with 16. BOX SCORE Melbourne United 80 def Illawarra Hawks 73, Win Entertainment Centre Melbourne United came in as outsiders but stayed in the fight a little longer than Illawarra on Thursday. Usually blasting teams out of the gym with offensive potency the Hawks – averaging 98 points per game at home – did not have it working, managing 20 points in just one of the four quarters. Kevin Lisch had 21 and Cody Ellis a superb 17 (5/6 FGs, 5/5 FTs), but the rest resembled a horror show by the Hawks’ standards as they failed to effectively work the ball inside to star AJ Ogilvy (11 points) and connect from downtown. United’s physical, defence-inspired win cements them as the League’s best road team and should dispel any fears that the flashiest side in the comp are not ready for the rigours of post-season basketball. Tim Coenraad had a chance to take the lead with a three early in the fourth term, but missed as Melbourne landed three quick punches – Stephen Holt x2 and Owen Odigie from deep – from which the hosts never came back. Holt top-scored with 23 in the game. BOX SCORE Cairns Taipans 95 def Adelaide 36ers 89, Cairns Convention Centre ‘Win or it’s over’ was the equation for Cairns on Friday. Win by 12 points or more and take the crucial Adelaide 36ers series – improving the chances of featuring in post-season action. The Taipans could only manage one of those two as Adelaide bounced back from Wednesday to put on a much better showing at the Cairns Convention Centre. Veteran forward Mark Worthington led the charge for Cairns with 24 points, five rebounds and four assists, while all the Snakes’ starters managed double digits. Adam Gibson (team-high 21 points, five rebounds and five assists) was back to his best with the freedom to run the show minus Randle; and Mitch Creek (18 points) and Anthony Petrie (17 points) were the beneficiaries. Lucas Walker (12 points and eight boards) had six points in the fourth-quarter fightback, including a highlight alley-oop from Daniel Johnson to open the term. Cairns were left to rue some rash decisions late in the game as the Sixers held tough and executed their way to the series win. BOX SCORE Perth Wildcats 95 def Sydney Kings 81, Perth Arena This was by far the strangest start to any game this season. After just two minutes the visiting Sydney Kings – which have gone minus-45 points in their two previous losses to Perth this season – actually led the ball game 11-0! The energetic start would be heartening for the Sydney fan base, after their wooden spoon fate was sealed last week. Two minutes in, Wildcats coach Trevor Gleeson had had enough when King Marcus Thornton swung off the rim after a breakaway dunk to make it 11-0. Wholesale changes were made as all five Perth starters were sat down for the more enthusiastic bench brigade, which quickly got things back on terms for the home side. At the 8:51 mark of the second quarter, Nathan Jawai was the first Perth starter to register points. From there the heavily favoured Cats – minus Casey Prather due to hamstring tightness – put it in cruise control to be up by five at half time and 12 at three-quarter time, despite the efforts of Sydney co-captain Josh Childress (game-high 30 points). BOX SCORE Illawarra Hawks 104 def Townsville Crocodiles 97, Win Entertainment Centre Melbourne gave them a lesson on mental and physical toughness on Thursday and it came in handy for Illawarra in their overtime win against the plucky Townsville Crocodiles two days later. Saturday night was not without its share of difficulty for the Hawks – a lot of it self-inflicted. The hungry Crocs monstered Illawarra on the glass in the first 20 minutes, winning the rebound count 21-5. In fact, by half time Townsville’s offensive rebound (eight) count was double that of the Hawks’ defensive rebound count. Losers of three of their past four games, the Hawks knew they needed to step up. In his return game, Kirk Penney (28 points) opened the second-half account, followed by a Rhys Martin triple to stretch the margin to six just a minute into the half. But for every Hawks charge Townsville had an answer, as bigs Omar Samhan and Nick Kay put their stamp on proceedings before gunslinger Mirko Djeric ended the term with a triple. Up nine with under three minutes remaining the Crocs looked primed to pinch it before Ellis, Lisch (game-high 29 points) and Penney hit clutch treys and Townsville did not score again. Illawarra kept it rolling, doing it comfortably in OT. BOX SCORE New Zealand Breakers 85 def Cairns Taipans 74, North Shore Events Centre Basketball fans could not ask for a more high-stakes Sunday afternoon game than this. The desperation of both sides was evident in patches, highlighted in the numerous stymieing rejections and hard-fought offensive rebounds. Cedric Jackson was again the man of the hour, with 15 points, 11 assists and six rebounds – including a couple of clutch offensive boards late in the game. While his first three-pointer was an airball, Jackson continued to defy the numbers to shoot 40 per cent from three-point land in this one. But he wasn’t the only Breaker taking over when it counted. When hustle points were required Cedric’s namesake Charles (10 points, four rebounds) ripped in, with big buckets and offensive rebounds to swing the momentum in favour of the hosts. Torrey Craig (15 points, six boards, two blocks) kept trying, illustrated by his late-game LeBron James-style chase-down block on Mika Vukona after the Breakers had arguably put the game away. After being blown out of the water early the Snakes responded to hold a 12-point second-quarter lead before New Zealand kicked into desperation mode. The road-weary Snakes side could not find enough troops to match Craig’s energy as the 2015/16 season faded away before their eyes. The Breakers have two huge games against Melbourne next week to decide their Finals fate. BOX SCORE The NBL regular season ends in a big way, with a full slate of seven games featured in Round 19. The Sydney Kings will hope to get some troops back in their final home game against Perth on Wednesday, while the final Reptile Rumble takes place in Townsville on Thursday. Friday’s double header sees New Zealand host Melbourne before the Sixers go to battle in Wollongong. Townsville host the Kings in the sole Saturday game, while Melbourne and New Zealand (at Hisense Arena), and Perth and Adelaide (Perth Arena) play on Sunday.