An odd thing happened in the first weekend of the new NBL season. It’s not that they had nearly 50,000 combined fans in attendance, smashing the previous record for an opening round, although that was pretty cool. It’s that most of those 48,820 fans went home bummed as the away teams won the first six games… before Perth righted the ship by annihilating Illawarra by forty points.
A lot of these teams were coming down and coming back down under after trips to the United States for the ol’ NBAxNBL festivities, Breakers included. Then there was the matter of backing up for double-headers, as six of the eight teams had to do, Breakers included. Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, Perth and NZ were the five teams that got caught with both of those happenings, with Melbourne’s situation exacerbated by a ridiculous quadruple overtime win on Friday night against Illawarra then having to host the Breakers a few days later – also missing import DJ Kennedy for the second game.
In other words, a perfect opportunity for the Breakers to stroll into town and snatch a valuable win. See, it’s easy to look at the Breakers’ first game and wonder if they were tired after the Phoenix Suns game (and the travel). The Brisbane Bullets rocked up in AKL and bullied the Breakers around. This is supposed to be a Bullets team behind the eight-ball, one playing to avoid another wooden spoon, but after a solid first quarter from the Breakers they were then outscored by 20 in the next half-hour of basketball. Not good at all. They were bossed off the glass and they simply had no answer to Cam Gliddon and his 29 points. When you let a team shoot 48% from three on 27 attempts then you’re always going to be in trouble, let alone when you give up double-digit offensive rebounds in the first half.
Some of those issues eased as the game went on. They learned to protect the defensive glass a lot better for one thing. But they just never figured out how to score efficiently. Tom Abercrombie made one field goal in 31 minutes of action and Shea Ili only took three shots in 23 minutes. Those are starting players who need to be doing way more to take the pressure off of Webster and Wesley as far as scoring goes. Then for some unknown reason Patrick Richard only played 15 minutes (shooting 4/8 for 9 points with 3 rebounds and 3 assists – promising numbers in limited opportunities).
It was an ugly game. You concede 83 points at home and you should still be in with a chance, particularly when Corey Webster’s shooting at 50%. But not on this day.
Corey Webster blamed complacency for the performance and that’s probably fair – he was playing after all, he’d know. Although a quick peek around the league showed that home teams were all having trouble. Even when Perth finally snapped that streak it was, you know, all the way over in Perth where the home advantage is biggest, not to mention against that same Illawarra team that played an entire extra half’s worth of basketball just a few days earlier.
To be honest, this is just what the opening round is like. The weaker teams haven’t been broken down yet, they’re out there desperate to prove those expectations wrong. Losing to Brisbane was a bugger of a way to start but it wouldn’t matter if the Breakers could bounce back against Melbourne a few days later… and boy did they.
The difference between the two performances was kinda astounding. This time the Breakers were the bullies. Rebounding is always going to be an issue for the shortest team in the league (at least in the centre position) but that’s a deliberate sacrifice they’ve made in order to get out on the front foot with their offence. When they’re roughing it up like this, letting Tai Wesley go to work in the paint, boxing out as a unit and at least staying close with the boards, hustling hard on defence… then this is the contending team we thought they could be. (Don’t get swept up in the off board numbers here though, they got a huge chunk in the first quarter because they kept missing at the rim and regathering to miss again – a bit misleading).
It was almost the opposite from game one, all the way down to the first quarter. After giving up 28 points and a nine-point lead in the first, the Breakers then scored 28 of their own in the second and outscored Melly Utd by 16 points the rest of the way.
They got both Melbourne’s centres in foul trouble, as you can do when you get guards running at them and forward playing rough with them. Shea Ili still wasn’t the offensive factor he probably needs to be but his defence on Casper Ware, keeping a dude who skinned this team in the playoffs last season to 2/13 from the field, was beyond impressive. Chris Goulding, David Barlow and Mitch McCarron all made shots. But then so did Tai Wesley (25 pts & 6 reb) and a resurgent Tom Abercrombie (16 pts, 8/12 fg, 5 reb) – who reclaimed his all-time Breakers leading scorer record from Kirk Penney. Oh and Patrick Richard, in increased minutes, dropped 15 points with 3/4 from deep, just saying.
What’s most enlightening about that is Corey Webster shot 3/12 and Shawn Long shot 1/9. The two guys who through preseason and game one it felt like the team relied upon the most and they were able to get a crucial away win with only 11 points combined from them. Tai Wesley is the other one in that category and when he’s able to put those devastating post moves to work early on then you know the Breakers are going to get their offence humming.
A couple other notices from the first couple games. One is that as a team they’ve started off shooting 11/38 from deep, which is 28.9% and pretty terrible. Webster has five of those at 41.7% and Richard has four of those at 50%. The rest of the team is a combined 2/18. That’s… something to keep an eye on. You can’t bank on much from Tai Wesley there, he’s only shooting them to mix it up (by the way, some really excellent mins from him at the five against Melly – that’s a useful option), but Tom Abercrombie needs to step it up there and Shea Ili, who is going to get open looks with his record from deep combined with the weapons around him, has honestly got to start getting them to fall if he’s to reach that next level. On that note, wouldn’t mind seeing a bit more Jordan Ngatai every now and then and letting him throw some up there.
Another point to make is the free throws: they missed eight of them in the first game. 8/16 despite Webster going 5/6. Things didn’t start too flash in Melbourne, 4/9 to begin things. Long, Weeks and Abercrombie all missing FTs. Then you know what happened? The rain ceased, the clouds parted, the light shone down upon the city of Melbourne and the Breakers made their next ten free throws in a row. Tai Wesley had missed three the other night but was 7/7 here.
The Breakers haven’t only had the worst free throw shooting numbers for the last four seasons in a row but it hasn’t even been close. With their emphasis on skilled bigs and driving guards this time, there’s no excuse for that to happen again. No excuse at all. These blokes are all good enough, it’s just a mental thing. So let’s make a huge deal about their perfect FT-shooting second half and give ‘em that confidence.
Finally, the last few years we’ve been doing this MVP thing with the Breakers, handing out three points, two points and one point to the best performing lads each game and tallying them up. It’d be a shame to break tradition so stay alert for the ranks after each game, either on twitter or in the nearest write-up. Here are the reckons:
Game One vs Brisbane:
3 – Corey Webster
2 – Shawn Long
1 – Tai Wesley
Game Two vs Melbourne:
3 – Tai Wesley
2 – Tom Abercrombie
1 – Patrick Richard
2017-18 – Edgar Sosa
2016-17 – Kirk Penney
2015-16 – Cedric Jackson
2014-15 – Cedric Jackson
2013-14 – Mika Vukona
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