It was the scourge on a season that was threatening to get away from them, but the Breakers’ turnover woes may just have been remedied in their 82-75 win over the Bullets on Thursday evening.
After weeks of soft basketball, both defensively and with ball in hand, New Zealand applied the clamps and kept the ball secure (three second-half turnovers) when the chips were down to snap a four-game losing streak in a tense game at Vector Arena.
No particular Breaker stood out, but Kirk Penney (16 points on 5/8 shooting), Tom Abercrombie (15 on 6/11) and Rob Loe (14 points, seven rebounds, three assists) led the charge.
Cameron Bairstow had a game-high 20 points and looks a new man after being rested for two weeks with general soreness, while fellow big man Daniel Kickert (17) could not be stopped down low.
Bullets coach Andrej Lemanis took a few lessons from the game.
“I thought at the start of the game our attention to defensive transition wasn’t where it needed to be,” he said.
“That gave the Breakers a bit of a lead early and they obviously got some confidence from that.
“We did a good job of getting ourselves to a position with three minutes to go it was anyone’s ball game.
“They made some plays and we didn’t down the stretch.”
Breakers coach Paul Henare – who challenged his group during the week to ‘get nasty’ – was pleased with how his troops bounced back.
“We came out and played with the right intent. Did we ‘get nasty’? Maybe we didn’t need to,” Henare said.
“But I think they responded well. The way Mika [Vukona] came into the game and set a tone – it wasn’t just about making baskets, but jut his aggressive mindset.
“It was one of the few times this year where he’s waved me down and asked for a sub, and that was before the six-minute mark. He was literally feeling spent three-and-a-half minutes into the game. And that’s where we need to get to in terms of effort.
“I singled out Mika, but I thought the starting group laid a platform for us to set totals to defend, and set a tone in terms of how we wanted to defend.”
The Breakers started with intent, ripping down three offensive rebounds on the very first possession which led to Loe’s put-back lay-up.
Spiritual leader Vukona scored six of his side’s first 10 points, while the Bullets gave Vector Arena fans the impression they were in for a shootout.
The offensive-minded home side controlled tempo, but a late Kirk Penney triple was all that separated the scores at quarter-time.
Not much was working for either team in an up-tempo yet ugly second term, as Rob Loe drained jumpers and Bullets stars Adam Gibson, Torrey Craig and Bairstow (11 first-half points) scored with their back to the basket.
But New Zealand’s poor ball control – 10 first-half turnovers after averaging 18 per game over their last five – again haunted them as Brisbane ran off 15 points off turnovers, and scores were levelled at 39 apiece at the half-way mark.
Third terms have been their Achilles heel throughout the season but New Zealand burst out of the change rooms on a 16-0 run, getting everything at the rim while forcing Brisbane into turnovers and contested looks late in the shot clock.
By the 6:15 mark they had forced the Bullets into a penalty situation, and after Kirk Penney’s trademark wing triple running off a down-pick the home side was up 55-39.
It took until 4:33 for Brisbane to register a score – Mitch Young under the bucket – and the Bullets started to chip away, trailing 63-55 at three-quarter-time after Bairstow’s open triple on the buzzer.
The Bullets weren’t going away, running off 10 straight points, on the back of big men Kickert and Bairstow, to peg the Breakers back to a 73-68 lead that reduced to three with 2:40 remaining.
But with the game – and five consecutive losses on the line, the bottom-of-the-ladder team found some brief respite with a strong defensive stand.
NEW ZEALAND BREAKERS 82 (Penney 16, Abercrombie 15, Loe 14)
BRISBANE BULLETS 75 (Bairstow 20, Kickert 17, Craig 9)