Vukona, Breakers swarm 36ers
By: Steve Barrett, Pagemasters
The New Zealand Breakers tightened their grip on top spot with a convincing 84-66 road victory over the Adelaide 36ers on Sunday.
After scores were tied at quarter-time and half-time, the Breakers awoke with a decisive 24-10 third term which ultimately proved the difference.
Mika Vukona (16 points at 67%, 7 rebounds, 6 assists) fouled out and received treatment for an injured back several times, but when on-court he was unstoppable, while Daryl Corletto (15 points at 67%) got the Breakers motoring in their dominant third period.
"Mika's a really tough character and there were times we thought he wouldn't even be able to walk and yet he's said 'yep, put me in'. That's the spirit of this group," Breakers coach Andrej Lemanis said.
"His statline was unbelievable for someone that was playing with a bad back.
"One of the real pleasing things for me is we've always been deep but this year we are truly playing with 10 people."
Anthony Petrie (19 points, 6 rebounds) was clearly best for the 36ers, who went in without Luke Schenscher following his nasty fall last week against Sydney.
The Breakers' swarming defence forced six early Adelaide turnovers but the Sixers stayed with the reigning champions, Adam Gibson's bounce pass for an Anthony Petrie rim-rattling double-hander the highlight as the opening term ended 18-apiece.
Seldom-used veteran big man and cult hero Pero Valiljevic scored six points in the space of two minutes early in the second term as the Sixers looked like stealing the ascendancy.
The momentum swung back to the Breakers, who went on a 14-4 mid-quarter run before a technical foul against Vukona, who got in Daniel Johnson's face during a terse exchange.
It allowed Adelaide to rally late in the stanza and tie the game at 38-38 at half-time, a scoreline the home side would have taken leading in.
It was a different story after the main interval though as the Breakers uncorked their A-game and left the Sixers reeling.
With Corletto catching fire with 10 points in three minutes, NZ rattled off the first 12 points of the term before back-to-back Leon Henry triples stretched the margin to 16.
"We kept them to zero points in that first five-minute stretch (in the third term) and that set the tone for the second half," Lemanis said.
"There's a pack mentality about us when we start to feel it. That energy sparks a fire."
Petrie finally registered Adelaide's first score of the term after almost six minutes, and he scored all but two of the Sixers' points for the quarter as they fell 62-48 behind at three-quarter-time.
The 36ers reduced the deficit to single digits briefly in the final stanza but there was no way the Breakers, even without centre Alex Pledger, would fritter away this game.
"Missed shots again (hurt) at the start of third," Adelaide coach Marty Clarke said.
"I thought a bigger part of the game coming towards the end of the third was we gave them (NZ) open threes."
New Zealand Breakers 84 (Vukona 16, Corletto 15, Jackson 11)
Adelaide 36ers 66 (Petrie 19, Gibson 10)