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NBL 2014/15 Round 11: Breakers break free late to cruise past Crocodiles
In what was a tight contest for three quarters, the New Zealand Breakers have defeated the Townsville Crocodiles 96-84 in Auckland. The win solidifies the Breakers position at the top of the NBL ladder, whilst the Crocs must be wondering what happened as they were in control of the game for the first 20.
The Breakers championship mettle proved too much for Townsville, who turned the ball over 20 times in a lackluster second-half showing. New Zealand on the other hand, was led by Corey Webster's 21 points, yet it was the defense shown by Mika Vukona and Rhys Carters' shooting that set the teams apart; Vukona nabbing 4 steals and Carter hitting 5 long range buckets.
Townsville opened the game with authority, knocking down three-pointers, pushing the pace in transition and playing some blue-collar defense. Their focused approach led to an early double digit lead. Sharp shooter Clint Steindl hit two deep shots in the opening stanza, punishing the Breakers slow rotations on defense as the visitors went into the first break with a 26-18 advantage and the bulk of the momentum.
The second quarter was much of the same for the Breakers, as Steindl continued to take advantage of the open looks he was getting. Cedric Jackson's shooting touch has left early for Christmas and it was the man who substituted in for him, Rhys Carter, who kept the Breakers within striking distance. Carter went 3/3 from long range as he and Webster became a two man show for the home team.
Down by 6 at the interval, the Breakers came out to start the second half with the same infectious enthusiasm the Crocodiles began the match with. As to be expected, the Breakers took the momentum as well, as they began to wrestle control of the contest. Townsville, who are second in the league in turnovers, were in a giving mood as four breakers had 3 or more steals. Their Achilles heel for the night, the Crocs just couldn't protect the ball. The third quarter also featured the highlight of the match as Ekene Ibekwe blocked Todd Blanchfield into next season with an emphatic swat.
With a one point lead heading into the fourth, the Breakers continued to improve their offense, whilst Townsville struggled to put the ball in the basket (shooting just 39%). The Crocs proceeded to give out turnovers like presents on Christmas day as their hard play in the first half was for naught. With 5 minutes to play, Carter and Webster hit back to back three pointers and Webster nabbed a three-point play as the Breakers jumped out to a 14 point lead. The Crocs battled to the final whistle but couldn't get the game closer than 9.
The Breakers have once again proven that they can come from behind to win big, however their 17/29 (58%) free-throw shooting cannot continue. Coach Vickerman needs to hold his players accountable, who are a league worst from the charity stripe. With every loss, Townsville enters into a tough fight for that fourth play-off position. They will need to be far more consistent if they want to perform on the big stage.
Lamenting what could of been, the Crocs have eight days to get ready for the Adelaide 36ers, whilst the Breakers head off to Cairns for a juicy match-up on Sunday.
Townsville Crocodiles 84 (Blanchfield 16, Conklin 16, Steindl 15)
New Zealand Breakers 96 (Webster 21, Carter 19, Jackson 13)