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R19 Report: Gritty Breakers steal Melbourne show

The New Zealand Breakers showed they are raring to go for the NBL Finals with a 70-68 win over Melbourne United in front of 10,200 fans at Hisense Arena on Sunday. Breakers star Tai Wesley again dominated United with 23 points and five rebounds, crucially he scored the go-ahead put back with 5.4 seconds to play, then blocked Hakim Warrick’s last ditch drive to the basket. Melbourne guard Chris Goulding was once again instrumental for Melbourne with 22 points, showing his shooting stroke was ready for the pressure of the post-season with Melbourne and New Zealand to play in a semi-finals series starting on Thursday night at Hisense Arena. With all four semi-finals spots locked in, Sunday afternoon was essentially a dead rubber. But both clubs made the most of the no-pressure environment, giving the 10,200 supporters and the television viewers at home a preview of how exciting the Swisse NBL Finals series will be, as they banged bodies and traded big plays in the final term. Breakers guard Corey Webster missed the game after staying in New Zealand with the birth of his first child due any day, while centre Alex Pledger sat out the second half after feeling dizzy at half time. Even without two championship players the Breakers dominated the rebound count 48-31, although Melbourne certainly won in the highlights stakes with an NBA-style 3D graphics display pre-game then equally stimulating first-half dunks from Chris Goulding and Hakim Warrick. Breakers coach Dean Vickerman said his side had come to Melbourne keen to win and start their campaign for a fifth title in six years on a high. “When you put on a Breakers’ singlet you just want to go and win,” Vickerman said post-game. “I think we’d lose that mindset after we had built some momentum after four wins, we hadn’t had an outstanding road record this year so we needed to go and beat another good team on the road.” Melbourne’s rebounding hurt them repeatedly as the Breakers pulled in 14 offensive rebounds, including three in the second-last play of the game, as the Breakers missed two earlier shots before Wesley came up with the ball and scored from close range to give them their final lead. Melbourne coach Dean Demopoulos said his side’s rebounding had to improve and he was confident they would do so ahead of the series opener. He also praised the Breakers, repeating his belief they are a “dynasty” due to their prolonged championship success. “It’s something that hasn’t been a strength of ours from the beginning,” Demopoulos said. “When you meet a team like them at this time of the year that’s something they are extremely good at and we’re not. “If we don’t get better at it we can’t expect a different result.” Melbourne plays New Zealand in game one of the semi-finals series at Hisense Arena on Thursday night at 7.30pm [AEDT] then play game two in New Zealand on Saturday night at 7.30pm [Auckland time].   NEW ZEALAND BREAKERS 70 (Wesley 23, Vukona 10, Ili 9) MELBOURNE UNITED 68 (Goulding 22, Kickert 16, Warrick 8) BOX SCORE
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