NBL 2014/15 Grand Final Game 2: Breakers clinch Championship on Ekene Ibekwe game winner
Ekene Ibekwe has hit a mid-range turnaround jumper on the buzzer to record the New Zealand Breakers’ fourth Championship in five years against a gallant Cairns Taipans side, 83-81.
Having lead by as much as 7 points in the third term, New Zealand were forced to fight until the final possession after a second half three point barrage from the Taipans. Torrey Craig, Shaun Bruce and Cam Gliddon (twice) nailed three pointers early in the fourth quarter, turning the match on its head as Cairns grabbed a 6 point advantage.
The lead changed hands seven times in the last term before a Mika Vukona put-back tied the match with 40 seconds remaining. Both sides were then forced to convert from the foul line, with Cam Tragardh and Cedric Jackson managing just 1-2 a piece to keep the scoreline tied.
Following Jackson’s missed free throw, the ball was bobbled several times as a mass of players fought for the rebound. Vukona came out of the scuffle fouled by Matt Burston and his 330+ games of experience shone through as he calmly sank two free throws.
With 17 seconds remaining, Cairns’ season was on the line and despite some terrific hounding defence from Jackson, Scottie Wilbeken was bailed out with a foul call. Under the most tense circumstances, he equalled Vukona’s heroics with two free throws of his own.
This set the stage for Dean Vickerman’s side, who had just 1.3 seconds left to conjure something. A brilliant misdirection play saw Ibekwe flash to the wing and gain just enough separation from Stephen Weigh to get his shot off. Truly, the attempt never looked like missing and the siren sounded just before the ball went through the net, sending the North Shore Events Centre into delirious pandemonium.
Having shot so well throughout the finals campaign, the Breakers continued that theme, dropping five of their first six shots. They opened up a 15-7 lead while also sending Alex Loughton and Weigh to the bench with foul trouble.
Tom Abercrombie (game high 19 points) and Jackson sliced easily through the Cairns defence but off the bench, the calming influence of Cam Tragardh brought the Taipans into the game, reducing the margin to 6 at quarter-time.
With back-to-back three pointers to open the second term, Torrey Craig (16 points) suddenly had the Cairns train rolling. Their momentum was halted by Jackson however, who answered with two triples of his own despite shooting just 29% from distance this season. His 14 points and New Zealand’s 24-10 advantage in the paint kept the margin at 5 by half-time.
Out of the main break, Cairns ran their offence through their one threat, Tragardh (a team high 17 points). His low post work proved unstoppable as he reeled off the first 8 points of the third term for the visitors.
With their defensive intensity finally matching their offensive output, Cam Gliddon capped off a 20-14 third term with a corner three that gave the Taipans their first lead. Having controlled the entire match, New Zealand suddenly looked rattled and the game was set for its thrilling conclusion.
Cairns pulled themselves back into the contest in the second half on 6-14 long range shooting after hitting 4-13 in the first half. The bench production of Craig and Tragardh could not be matched by their starters though who were out-scored 38-68. Only Gliddon (16 points) and Wilbeken (10) reached double figures while as a team, they lost the points in the paint battle 16-40.
Following their three-peat of 2011-13, the Breakers are again NBL Champions. Leading from the front, Jackson tallied 15 points, 6 rebounds, 7 assists and 3 steals while holding his direct opponent, Wilbeken, to 4-15 shooting. Corey Webster (11 points) and Tai Wesley (12 and 5 boards) were also integral while Vukona (9 and 8) will be basking in the glory of his fifth title.
The man of the moment is Ibekwe though and despite scoring 14 points, his final two will go down as one of the greatest shots in NBL history and the capper to a tremendous season from New Zealand.
New Zealand Breakers 83 (Abercrombie 19, Jackson 15, Ibekwe 14)
Cairns Taipans 81 (Tragardh 17, Gliddon 16, Craig 16)
@ North Shore Events Centre