Breakers hold on against Bullets to end losing streak
BASKETBALL: When a team is attempting to bust out of a slump, any win will do.
So having watched a 15-point fourth-quarter lead almost disappear against Brisbane, eventually eking out victory will feel like the most satisfying win imaginable to the Breakers.
The Kiwi club snapped its four-game losing streak in heart-stopping style at Vector Arena, turning what looked like a convincing triumph into a nail-biter against the Bullets.
If coach Paul Henare thought he had been "too nice” to his players during their slide to the bottom of the NBL standings, such clemency was about to be banished as Brisbane crept within three points late in the fourth.
But the Breakers (7-8) held on and, for the first time in five games, clear eyes will absolutely reveal the positives to be outweighing any stumbles against the Bullets (7-7).
Having conceded an average of 98 points per game throughout their dispiriting slump, the Breakers defence for three quarters responded to Henare's call to be "nasty”, eventually keeping their opposition under 80 for the first time in a month.
"I think we got some improvement (on defence),” Henare said. "But one of the wonderful things - and I'm sure the guys are feeling the same - is that we can walk away from that game knowing we fought hard and we battled but knowing there's still room for improvement across the board.”
Henare did find improvements against the Bullets by pulling the trigger on the personnel change he had hinted at, starting Rob Loe in place of Alex Pledger.
And while the coach was keen to stress the move was more about team strengths rather than individual qualities, Loe rewarded the faith with 14 points, seven rebounds and some key fourth-quarter plays from the first-year big man.
Kirk Penney led his side with 16 - including a couple of much-need triples as the visitors threatened to take the lead - while Tom Abercrombie warmed up in the second half to finish with 15.
The standards Henare wanted were set, naturally, by Mika Vukona, who responded to his coach's mid-week call by combining physicality and finishing on the inside to score eight early points and lift the Breakers to an early lead.
"The way Mika came into the game really set a tone - it wasn't just about making baskets but his aggressive mindset,” Henare said. "It was one of the few times this year that he actually waved me down and asked for a sub. He was feeling spent four minutes into the game and that's where we need to get to in terms of the effort.”
Vukona's exertions were not a panacea for the Breakers' problems, though. The turnover plague that has infected the players in recent weeks once more took its toll, with 10 miscues in the half allowing Brisbane to pull level at the major break.
But whatever Henare said at half-time certainly had the desired effect, as the Breakers started the third quarter on a game-changing 16-0 run to lead by as many.
And yet, with the home side having taken most of that advantage into the fourth, the crowd watched in horror as Brisbane continued to close the gap, leaving the Breakers needing to show a level of composure that had been missing in recent weeks to close out the win.