New Zealand Breakers have fallen agonisingly short of a third straight ANBL victory going down 87-84 to Melbourne United at John Cain Arena.
It was a back-and-forth affair with lead changes throughout the contest before a late 10-0 run in the final stanza saw United improve their season record to 10-1, to sit comfortably at the top of the ladder.
The Breakers will take a lot of pride in their performance that drops their overall record to 3-7 and 2-3 in the NBL Cup, as they matched the pinnacle side of the competition for the entire 40 minutes. If it wasn't for a flat period in the final quarter, the visitors could've claimed an impressive upset.
The Kiwis were led by the ever-reliable Tai Webster, who chipped in with a game-high 32 points as his stocks continued to rise as one of the leagues premier players. He made 12 of his 20 shots and was deadly from beyond the arc making four of his five attempts, before critically fouling out late in the piece.
He was helped out by older brother Corey Webster who added 14 points (6/17 field goal, 1/7 three pointers) and captain Tom Abercrombie who added 13 (6/9 field goals), but the big concern for the Auckland side will be the contribution off the bench.
The Kiwi outfit only managed eight points off the pine with Jarred Weeks seven points and Rasmus Bach one point the only two players to contribute.
Melbourne's superior depth ended up being the difference, with the league leaders able to call upon former Breaker Scotty Hopson off the bench.
They were led by Australian centre Jock Landale who registered 23 points while Mitch McCarron, continued his brilliant form with 17 points, seven rebounds and seven assists but the key man was the former Breaker.
Just like he did so often with the Kiwi club last season, Hopson turned match-winner when it mattered and had 16 points.
Breakers coach Dan Shamir couldn’t fault his team's fighting spirit as the vastly improved Breakers never let the league leaders out of sight.
"I think it was a good game overall," Shamir says. "It was tough, intense and had good effort from both teams."
"We probably ran out of gas a little bit in the fourth quarter and they scored more than the rest, and the coverages from us were pretty good for three quarters. But they were able to score 30 points in the fourth.
"Tai had a great game, Corey played hurt and that's probably what we missed offensively because he couldn’t really get his usual shots and create. We are just moving on."
Next up for the Breakers is the Cairns Taipans on Wednesday who sits one win and one place above them on the ladder.
Melbourne United 87 (Landale 23, McCarron 17, Hopson 16, Ili 13), NZ Breakers 84 (Webster 32, Webster 14, Abercrombie 13).