Abercrombie, Breakers break Crocs hearts
Some Tom Abercrombie magic delivered the New Zealand Breakers a remarkable 82-78 victory over the Crocodiles in Townsville on Friday.
Townsville led by 14 points in the shadows of three-quarter-time before Leon Henry nailed two big triples to give the Breakers a sniff.
While Gary Ervin (29 points, 4 assists) did everything he could to hold off the champs, Mika Vukona and Cedric Jackson stepped up the intensity to reduce the margin to five with three minutes to play.
From there it was Abercrombie time as the international star nailed nine straight points to break the hearts of the big crowd in Townsville.
Abercrombie finished with 19 points at 60 per cent, while Jackson (10 points, 10 rebounds, 8 assists), Alex Pledger (10 points, 9 rebounds) and Will Hudson (10 points, 8 rebounds) were also big contributors.
"We've had these four games on the road and we've been through different things and found different ways to win," Breakers coach Andre Lemanis said.
"In Adelaide we were down by 21 at the half and found a way to win, while in Wollongong we played in a game that was 22 lead changes, 10 times the game was tied and we found a way to win.
"And with that comes a confidence that no matter what's going on in the team, if we keep playing a certain way we're going to give ourselves at least a chance."
Early on Luke Nevill (20 points, 4 rebounds) got the better of an entertaining match-up with Pledger to put the Crocs in front, but the Breakers surged and a Jackson-Abercrombie alley-oop had the visitors up by five.
Townsville young gun Todd Blanchfield then stood tall, scoring 10 points including a towering Statue of Liberty dunk through traffic to power the Crocs to a 23-16 lead at the first break.
Defence was the name of the second quarter as Townsville’s switching schemes threw the Breakers’ usual rhythm, while at the other end Ervin was simply unstoppable.
After a stunning solo lay-up in transition, Ervin found Nevill on the break and then nailed a deep three to give the Crocs a 34-21 lead.
Trailing by 15 at half-time the Breakers emerged a different team in the third, picking off two steals punctuated by a two-handed power jam from Abercrombie.
The teams traded alley-oops to big men Nevill and Pledger, but Vukona (8 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals) lifted his already incredible intensity as New Zealand dominated possession on their way to a 44-18 rebounding advantage.
Try as they might though the Breakers had no answer for Ervin, and when Peter Crawford hit a trademark transition triple the margin was 14.
But you can never write off a champion and so it proved as Henry popped up for his influential cameo and then Abercrombie produced a masterpiece.
"I told the boys after the game that they deserved to win, but you have to play 40 minutes," Crocs coach Paul Woolpert.
"You can't have soft possessions at the end of the game.
"We knew they would be aggressive and physical down the stretch ... and we had counters for that, but we didn't get to them.
"We had soft offensive possessions ... soft passes, we weren't aggressive and we fed them, giving them momentum and life and they took advantage."
New Zealand Breakers 82 (Abercrombie 19, Hudson 10, Jackson 10, Pledger 10)
Townsville Crocodiles 78 (Ervin 29, Nevill 20, M Cedar 11)