R3 Preview: Illawarra Hawks vs NZ Breakers

When: 7.30pm (AEDT), Friday 17 December, 2021

WIN Entertainment Centre, Wollongong

ESPN; Kayo; Sky Sports NZ

Who won last time?

Illawarra 84 (Harvey 30, S Froling 22, Simon 13) d New Zealand 73 (Delany 24, T Webster 14, Randolph 13) - Round 21, 2021, Franklin Pool & Leisure Centre, Pukekohe

The Hawks put one foot into the playoffs with a stunning final 25 minutes in southern Auckland. Finn Delany, Tai Webster and Levi Randolph propelled New Zealand to an eight-point lead in the second term, but Tyler Harvey turned the game, scoring 23 points in the final two-and-a-half quarters, while also adding eight rebounds, five dimes and five steals.

What happened last start?

Last start, the Breakers got a fast start in Adelaide before running out of steam. In the opening half, Hugo Besson and Will McDowell-White brilliantly replaced New Zealand’s two injured starters, while Yanni Wetzell was unstoppable inside. However, fatigue and the 36ers’ rebounding dominance took their toll and the hosts scored 17 of the final 21 points.

It was the Hawks who finished strong in Sydney, a 7-0 run sealing the deal on a classic Freeway Series clash. Brian Goorjian’s men continued to impress from range, take care of the ball and force opponents into a high error rate. Facing New Zealand, who give up big numbers from three while forcing precious few turnovers, appears a good recipe for another W.

Who’s in form?

Duop Reath – How’s 22.5ppg at 65 per cent, 5/10 from deep and 8.0rpg for an introduction to the NBL? Reath has been superb, efficiently capitalising on the attention his guard crew demand, and cleaning up any mess they leave behind with four o-boards per night. Duop should expect to be high on opposition scouting sheets from here on.

Hugo Besson – After Round 1, Besson may barely have rated a mention in the scouting notes, and he took full advantage by dropping 51 points on the Phoenix and Adelaide last week, nailing 50 per cent from the field and 9/19 from distance. Remarkably, in four quarters following half-time in Melbourne he scored 36 points on 8/14 from the arc.

Who needs to be?

Justinian Jessup – It’s been a solid start from the league’s first sophomore Next Star, nailing 30 points across the opening two games and showing an improved level of maturity. While his offensive production is important, his D is key on Friday because he’s likely to start with the assignement on Besson, and the Frenchman will be ready to fire.

New Zealand’s defence – Even down some serious starpower, this Breakers team has some serious firepower, with Besson, McDowell-White, Wetzell and Finn Delany all showing they can run up numbers. The problem is New Zealand’s inconsistent defensive intensity and physicality, and when it drops it is opposition teams running up the numbers.

Who’s statting up?

 - In their best defensive quarters of the opening three games, New Zealand have allowed just 15 points at 29 per cent. Across the other nine quarters they’ve conceded 26.3 points at 57 per cent

 - The Breakers rank last in opposition scoring (92.7), defensive field-goal shooting (50%), defensive three-point percentage (45%), opposition three-point makes (10.7) and turnovers forced (7.0)

 - Illawarra rank first in turnovers forced (19.5), are committing 11 fewer miscues than their opponents, and are +31 on points from turnovers across two games

 - The Hawks rank last in assists (10.0) with only Tyler Harvey inside the NBL’s top 25. They also rank last in free-throw attempts (11.0) with only Duop Reath in the top 25

Who’s matching up?

Duop Reath v Finn Delany – So far, Reath has matched up with traditional power forwards in Daniel Johnson, Cam Bairstow and Jarell Martin. But they are the exception rather than the rule in this league, with players like Mitch Creek, Vic Law and Jack White the prototype created by Marcus Timmons, Sam Mackinnon, Shawn Redhage and Co.

Finn Delany certainly fits that mould, and despite a quiet second half in Adelaide he is in superb form. Reath has been adept at taking big four-men outside, but how will he go against a smaller opponent? Will the Hawks run the same sets to free him at the top of the key, or look to get him involved closer to the basket? And can he guard Finn out to the arc?

Who’s talking the talk?

Brian Goorjian is enjoying talking up his stars after a blistering 2-0 start to the season.

While the return of Tyler Harvey, Justinian Jessup and Sam Froling have been critical, it’s the arrival of Duop Reath, Antonius Cleveland and Xavier Rathan-Mayes that appear to have taken the Hawks to another level.

“That’s the league this year, you add another import, this Next Star, people from all over the world – French, German, Chinese – players coming back from college, players coming back from Europe, you had to ante up this year,” Goorjian said.

“When you look at the groups on the floor tonight, we do have more offensive firepower than we did last year.”

Without doubt, Reath has been the early sensation, and he was recruiting target number one for Goorj.

“A real key signing for us, for credibility for our program moving forward is (Reath), and in the first two games he’s been obviously instrumental,” he said.

“He’s inside-out, he can shoot the three, he’s nice around the basket, he defends and he’s a tremendous teammate. I was with him for 6-8 weeks with the Boomers leading into the Olympics and I knew what I was getting.”

Reath brings a unique combination of size, athleticism, skill and mobility to the frontcourt, and so does partner-in-crime Cleveland.

“I think he’s a piece that makes us really good if he’s going, if he bites on this and shows and grows and gets into this,” Goorjian said of Justin Simon’s replacement.

“He’s a piece that’s just more offensive minded, he can shoot the three, he can get on the rim, he can guard multiple positions … he's just unique to our team on the perimeter.

“Being with the Boomers he’s like Matisse Thybulle and Dante Exum, it’s that kind of guy that makes you different.”

The Breakers might be winless, but coach Dan Shamir is still happy to talk up some of his unexpected stars like Will McDowell-White, Hugo Besson and Yanni Wetzell.

“We’re 0-3 and it’s a rough start again for us, but we have to take things in perspective, we’re playing all these away games, all these three games were under unusual circumstances,” he said.

“A lot of players did a lot great things. Yanni was great, Will is doing what he should do this year, Hugo is catching confidence.

“We have to get players back, get tougher, get better and change things around.”

While a lot of players did great things at times, the Breakers team couldn’t consistently do the basics well, their defence and rebounding not at the level required to cover for offensive droughts.

Against Adelaide they produced a first half for the ages, leading 59-42 at the break, but gave up 56 points in the second half and remarkably forced just one turnover in 20 minutes.

On the glass, New Zealand pulled in only three o-boards from 30 missed field goals, while the 36ers grabbed 16 from 42 misses as the visitors lost the possession game by 18.

“We controlled what we wanted to control (in the first half), I think they had maybe nine offensive rebounds but we fought in the paint and did our job, a completely different half from the second one,” Shamir said.

“We’re missing players, maybe we ran out of gas a little bit.”

No one typified the Breakers’ changing fortunes more than McDowell-White, who scored 22 points in the opening 20 minutes but just five after interval.

“It was a pretty good feeling in the first half especially, I've probably never had that feeling in my life before,” he said.

“I probably should have continued to attack more and look for driving lanes a lot more in the second half, which I have to continue doing in the future.

“I think I have to do the exact opposite of what I've done in the past, a lot of creation from myself and especially Hugo, then we have Finn and Yanni who are creating a lot for us, so we just need to continue that for 40 minutes.”


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