NBL 2014/15 Round 5: Breakers wrestle tight victory away from feisty Crocs

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The New Zealand Breakers (6-3) have completed the 'sunshine swing', defeating the Townsville Crocodiles (3-4) 87-80 in an ugly affair at Townsville RSL Stadium. From the dated courts at the stadium to the tired nature of the basketball being played, this was a match-up for the purists as she was a dog fight until the final minutes. The win leaves the Breakers a clear second on the table, whilst the Crocs are now submerged at third last.

The Breakers must be ecstatic after round 5 as they have defeated two solid teams in Cairns and Townsville, yet have not played anywhere near their best basketball. Against Cairns, they shot 5/15 from the free throw line and tonight they had 18 turnovers and yet still managed to get the victory.

With Mickell Gladness sitting out with injury, the Crocs struggled to maintain the 'Beanpole Beast', Ekene Ibekwe, who had 14 points, 9 rebounds and a number of tipped balls and disruptions. His play over the weekend (20 points and 14 rebounds against Cairns) has been a revelation and if not for Josh Childress' herculean effort today he would be a shoo-in for 'player of the week' honors.

The game got off to a fast pace, with both teams hitting three-pointers and running their transition offense. Having played three weekends in a row with double games, the Breakers slowly tired as the match went on, however they built an early lead. After trailing 17-16, the Breakers went on a 28-2 run from midway in the first quarter until 5:30 in the second when the Crocs finally dug in and scored a basket. Tom Abercrombie led the charge for the visitors and finished with a team high 19 points.

Clint Steindl and Todd Blanchfield kept the the Crocs in the game with their clutch jump shooting as the Breakers slowly started to self destruct following their run. The Breakers turned the ball over 5 times in the quarter as the lead going into halftime was only 10. NBL leading scorer Brian Conklin was again a non-factor against the Breakers, who appear to be his kryptonite. Conklin finished with 11 points and 2 rebounds.

Mika Vukona, who has unfounded confidence in his jump shot (shooting 30.1% on the season), continued to shoot at will, whilst the Breakers best shooter, Corey Webster, was deployed as little-more than a decoy. With the Breakers up to 15 turnovers, the Crocs defense turned the game into an arm-wrestle heading into the fourth quarter and with only a slender 7 point gap, it was anybody's game.

The fourth quarter was marred by fatigue from both sides as the visitors were barely hanging on, but the Crocs did not have enough energy to force stops or turnovers. Some dead-eye shooting from Blanchfield closed the gap to three, however the cool-head of Cedric Jackson prevailed down the stretch as he was involved in a number of plays that sealed the Crocs fate. Some clutch free-throw shooting by Vukona and Webster pushed the score beyond doubt.

The Crocs will have to be disappointed in their effort, as they appeared disinterested in stretches and were heavily out-rebounded (33-17). Next week they travel to Perth to play a tough match against the Wildcats, who will be looking to prove a point after their scrappy win over Melbourne today.

The Breakers will fly home knowing they have won two difficult road matches despite not playing their best basketball. Next week they face the bottom-placed Wollongong Hawks (1-8) at Vector Arena and will be brimming with confidence.

New Zealand Breakers 87 (Abercrombie 19, Jackson 16, Ibekwe 14)

Townsville Crocodiles 80 (Blanchfield 23, Steindl 15, Conklin 11)

@ Townsville RSL Stadium