Relentless Breakers fired up for NBL grand final series

Barry Brown Junior attacks the basket for the Breakers during their sudden death semifinal victory over the JackJumpers last night.

After building an irresistible momentum to beat the Tasmania JackJumpers in their sudden death semifinal at Spark Arena last night, the New Zealand Breakers must wait well over a week for the start of the NBL grand finals series against the Sydney Kings.

The Kings, the No.1 team after the regular season, have the right to host three games: the best-of-five series starts in Sydney on March 3, with the Breakers hosting the next on Sunday, March 5.

The third game is scheduled for Sydney on Friday, March 10, and the two others, if required, will be shared.

It means that after an epic season for the No.2-ranked Breakers, and a tight and intense semifinal series against the JackJumpers which they won 2-1 thanks to their thrilling 92-77 victory at home helped by Barry Brown Jr’s brilliant offensive display, the New Zealand team must now take a long break before kicking into gear again.

“It’s a weird thing,” their coach Mody Maor said last night. “It’s the first time I’ve seen playoffs [take place after] a week’s break. We’ll make the best of it. We’ll prepare, practice, get healthy and ready.”

Most of the players, at least, may be grateful for a little rest and recreation away from the court. Cyclone Gabrielle meant they have had a difficult trip to Hobart for Game 2 and some of their men, including Brown Jr, who top scored with 32 points last night, appear a little banged up.

It means there should be no excuses as they take on the defending champions. Not that there would be from a Breakers side which finished in last place last season and which has had a hellish couple of Covid-affected years due to their being based in Australia.

Their knack of responding to challenges this season has put them into this position and both Maor and captain Tom Abercrombie said that was due to the spirit in their group.

“We knew exactly what type of people we wanted in the building – that’s where it starts,” said Maor.

“The second thing is how we want to play, and we brought in people who fit what we want to do in defence and who we want to be as an organisation and as a team. Those were the first steps and the main ones.”

The way Abercrombie, Brown Jr, Dererk Pardon, Rayan Rupert, Jarrell Brantley, Will McDowell-White and Izayah Le’afa in particular have performed over the last couple of weeks is a credit to their determination and, at times, inspiration.

As usual for the Breakers, it was also built on a near water-tight defence.

“Just tough, gritty hard work,” Abercrombie said.

“It’s the ability to just relentlessly execute the little things in games like that and stay focused on the task.

“Game 1 and Game 3 we were fantastic at that, tonight especially. Defensively we did a fantastic job. They made some shots but for the most part it was playoff defence which has always been the backbone of this club.”

Izayah Le'afa and Mody Maor celebrate the Breakers' victory at Spark Arena last night.

It is the Breakers’ first appearance in a grand finals series in seven years. They last won the championship in 2015.

“It’s been a while – seven years,” said Abercrombie, who has played in all four of the club’s championship wins.

“The game has changed a lot in seven years. This is obviously as good a team as we’ve ever had but that means nothing going into the finals. I haven’t been in a best-of-five series either.

“The identity and culture of this team is a strong point. It’s something that’s carried us through some tough times this year.

“Obviously after the last couple of years I never thought I’d be back in this position so don’t take it for granted this moment - enjoy it and go out and have fun.

“We challenge each other. We’re a fiery group. There have been plenty of blow ups but it’s all part of the process and it comes back to good people all wanting to do the same thing – their hearts are in the right place, we know that, no matter what’s going on.”

Asked about the spark provided by Brown Jr, the 25-year-old small forward from Florida, Abercrombie replied: “That’s Barry in a nutshell, really. He’s done it multiple times this year when we’ve struggled offensively and he’s that ace in the back pocket – someone who can create their own shot and get things going.”

Mody, asked about the grand finals series, added: “There’s nothing in the world that I’m looking forward to more.”

NBL grand finals series - Kings v Breakers

Game 1: Fri, March 3 @ 9:30pm in Sydney

Game 2: Sun, March 5 @ 6pm in NZ

Game 3: Fri, March 10 @ 9:30pm in Sydney

Game 4*: Sun, March 12 @ 6pm in NZ

Game 5*: Wed, March 15 @ 9:30pm in Sydney

*if required.


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