NZ Breakers have fallen at the final hurdle in their quest for a fifth Australian NBL crown, conceding 14 unanswered points in the final quarter to lose 77-69 to Sydney Kings in the Grand Final decider at Sydney.
After leading early, the Auckland team let their advantage slip away, but held a seven-point edge with seven minutes left in the contest and seemed to have grabbed momentum back at the right time.
They would not find the basket again for more than five-and-a-half minutes, as the Kings closed strongly, with American Derrick Walton Jr slicing and dicing the Breakers defence to spark the comeback.
NBL Sixth Man of the Year Barry Brown Jr finally broke the drought from long range to bring his team within four points with 1m 20s to play, but Walton hit from midrange on the next possession to effectively dash the Breakers’ hopes.
In front of an 18,000 Qudos Bank Arena crowd, the visiting team, boasting the league’s best road record, settled more quickly into the encounter, leading 22-11 after the opening quarter and extending to 12 in the second period.
As halftime approached, the Kings ground their way back into contention, trailling by just one at the break and level with one quarter remaining.
Breakers captain Tom Abercrombie – the last survivor of the Breakers previous four titles – scored no points, but drew the key defensive assignments of point guard Walton and MVP centre Xavier Cooks, who will now join Washington Wizards in the NBA.
After a slow start, Cooks was a big part of his team’s resurgence, accumulating a 19 points/11 rebounds double double to show his pedigree. When he was forced to the bench with his fourth personal foul, the Breakers were able to claw back the advantage.
Cooks re-entered the game with Sydney trailling by five, but ultimately, Abercrombie fouled out.
The Breakers looked to Brown and American forward Jarrell Brantley to win through isolation plays, but they had lost their groove, as the Kings closed with an 18-3 run.
Brown led all scorers with 22, but connected on just 1/7 from the arc.
While they could not quite topple the defending champions on their homecourt, under new coach Mody Maor, the Breakers still enjoyed an incredible comeback season to an automatic semi-final spot, after languishing at the foot of the table just 12 months ago.
Their next priority will be retaining the core of this squad to make a similar run at the title next season.
Sydney Kings 77 (Walton Jr 21, Cooks 19, Glover 12) NZ Breakers 69 (Brown Jr 22, Brantley 16, McDowell-White 12)