NBL 2014/15 Round 14: Breakers survive Ervin onslaught in Sunday thriller

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Playing with the confidence of a play-off team, the Hawks (3-17) attacked without fear and refused to fade against the league leaders. Coming off a tough overtime loss to the Breakers (16-5) on Thursday, the Hawks must have felt some deja vu as they again fell just short in a thrilling game.

Led by veteran guard Gary Ervin (25 points, 5 threes, 5 rebounds), the Hawks threw the kitchen sink at the visitors and were a couple of crunch-time stops away from a stunning upset. Wollongong, who have won 13/20 match-ups at home against the Breakers, weren't able to protect the ball, turning it over 15 times in a careless display.

The Breakers, who continue to pull out late-game victories, cruised for most of the match and flexed their deep rotation as they outscored the Hawks bench 35-23. Forwards Tai Wesley (11 points, 4 rebounds, 2 steals), Mika Vukona (17 points, 5 rebounds) and guard Rhys Carter (13 points, 3 threes) dominated for the visitors who survived a quiet night from star guard Cedric Jackson (9 points, 5 assists).

The Breakers, who continue to mirror their opponents play, underachieved against the league worst Hawks and appear to be very beatable. Part of their lackadaisical performance could be pegged on coach Dean Vickerman who was absent from the game with an illness. Wollongong, who have suffered through a horror season, are not playing like easy beats and will be able to compete with any team for the remainder of the season.

Wollongong opened the match in a zone, which was a risky tactic as Breakers guard Corey Webster made them pay with two quick threes and ten total points within the first 5 minutes. On the other end, the Hawks were feeding big men Oscar Forman and Larry Davidson with alley-oops as they struggled to hit from beyond the arc. The Breakers shot 77% and went 4/4 from downtown as they broke free for an early 14 point advantage. During the Breakers' run, Hawks guard Gary Ervin took a tumble with three minutes to go in the quarter, briefly heading to the changing sheds before returning to the bench.

The Breakers stormed into the second quarter with a 25-16 lead and looked to have a comfortable lead, however an early Hawks run shaved the margin to one as floor leader Gary Ervin returned to steal the momentum from the visitors. Both teams went back and forth throughout the quarter with the Hawks briefly taking a 40-39 lead on an Ervin jumper. With Webster held to just two second quarter points, reserve Rhys Carter led the Breakers on a mini-run to end the period as they entered halftime with a 47-43 advantage.

Tai Wesley started the second half over Alex Pledger, who looked slow and sluggish in his five minutes of action and the change immediately played dividends for back-up coach Paul Henare, as Wesley hit two jumpers and the Breakers extended their lead to eight. A Jahii Carson 3-pointer tied the game at 59 as he continued to keep the Breakers defense on the back foot. The Hawks played well on both ends of the floor as a unit, making life difficult for the Breakers on offense as they scored just 16 points in the period.

Up just one point going into the fourth, Breakers super-sub Carter and Ervin traded treys as the game hung in the balance. Irvin and Tim Coenraad continued to look like the danger men for the Hawks, but offensive execution let them down and the Breakers continued to feast on their turnovers. With two minutes to go, a controversial out of bounds call gave the Hawks a second possession and Coenraad made them pay with a dagger three-pointer to tie the game. A Cedric Jackson lay-up gave the visitors a two point lead with one minute to go and a Wesley steal on yet another botched play, extended the lead to three with 15 seconds remaining.

The faces on the Wollongong bench said it all, as yet another winnable game escaped their reach. The Breakers closed out the tough fought victory on the foul line and survived another Ervin three, to take the match 86-84.

The New Zealanders now enter a three game home-stand, whilst the Hawks who must be feeling deflated after their two tough Round 14 losses become the season spoilers as they face Adelaide in Round 15.

New Zealand Breakers 86 (Vukona 17, Webster 15, Carter 13)

Wollongong Hawks 84 (Ervin 25, Coenraad 19, Carson 11)