The New Zealand Breakers have made the most of their first game at home this season, surviving a feisty Sydney Kings comeback to run out 89-81 winners on Thursday night.
The Breakers came into the first of the two clashes between the sides with none of the pressure and all of the home-ground advantage — it’s taken until round 19 for the Breakers to host a game on home soil, having been based out of Australia this season amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The game loomed as crucial for the Kings who, along with the Hawks and Bullets, are competing for what is likely the final spot in the playoffs.
The Breakers’ precision from the three-point line helped them to an early lead.
The Kiwi side scored all of their first twelve points from three pointers, netting five of seven attempts from deep for the quarter.
Levi Randolph made his return from a hamstring injury known early, sinking both of his first two attempts from the three-point line. He helped himself to eight points for the period in total after missing the Breakers’ last four outings.
The Kings took a different strategy, scoring 18 of their opening quarter’s 26 points from the paint.
A lay-up from Sydney’s Brad Newley in the dying seconds of the term locked the scores up at 26-all.
In the second quarter, the Breakers continued to shoot with intimidating accuracy from three, sinking all of their first three attempts to take back the lead early in the period.
Their Aussie opponents couldn’t find the same momentum from deep.
Inconsistent accuracy plagued their last performance and the Kings again struggled to make the most of their shots in their trip across the ditch.
They finished the first half sinking only three from 11 three-pointers and, consequently, found themselves on the wrong end of a 51-39 scoreline at the main break.
Breakers forward Finn Delany came out firing in the third term, netting New Zealand’s first three buckets of the term and allowing the home side to maintain its 12-point buffer.
A pointscoring drought hit both teams midway through the term, before influential Kings forward Jarrell Martin sunk both of his free-throws to reduce the deficit to ten.
The advantage of the Breakers’ homecoming seemed to know no bounds, though, with Delany continuing to punish the visitors from everywhere. He played every minute of the opening three quarters and had 26 total points and 11 rebounds before finally earning a break. He finished with 28 points — his most ever on New Zealand soil.
The Breakers took a 20-point lead into the final change as a comeback suddenly began to look a bridge too far for the Kings.
Enter Casper Ware.
The Kings guard is in stellar form and did his utmost to pull the Kings back into the contest.
Ware netted 11 points in the final quarter, giving Breakers fans reason to sweat as the visitors cut the margin to six.
Sydney outscored New Zealand 27-15 in the final term, but it wasn’t enough to wrest victory from the home side.
The Kings now have their work cut out for them if they’re to charge into the playoffs.
CASPER’S COMEBACK THWARTED
After he ran riot against the 36ers last week, the Breakers managed to keep Casper Ware quiet offensively in the opening passages of play.
The 31-year-old was kept to one assist and no points for the opening quarter, having missed all four of his attempts for the period.
He began to find his feet late in the second but it was in the fourth quarter that he showed the depth of his abilities as a basketballer.
The former NBA star engineered a Kings comeback in the final term, scoring 11points for the period as Sydney came within spitting distance of New Zealand. It wasn’t to be, however.
BRUCE’S STREAK BROKEN
Shaun Bruce missed his first free-throw of the season on Thursday night, having sunk 23 of 23 attempts this season before the Kings’ clash with the Breakers. The Kings guard finished the game with a modest four points.
The loss will give Kings fans cause for concern. Thursday’s game was the first outing of a brutal road trip for the Kings — Sydney’s calendar features another game in New Zealand and one in Perth before this time next week.
If the Kings are to clinch what is likely the remaining playoffs spot, they’ll need to win at least three of their remaining five, so can’t afford to throw away opportunities like they did on Thursday night.