Basketball: NZ Breakers clinch ANBL playoffs spot with win over Melbourne United

NZ Breakers have continued an incredible turnaround season in the Australian NBL, clinching a playoffs spot with victory over Melbourne United at home.

Just 12 months ago, the Auckland club languished at the bottom of the competition ladder with just five wins from their 28 games, as they limped through a second campaign based across the Tasman during COVID-19.

Now back in more familiar territory, under new coach Mody Maor, the Breakers have ensured a top-six finish with 16-10 record, and still sit within a game of second and an automatic semi-final spot, with two games remaining in their regular season.

Tom Abercrombie in action against Melbourne
Tom Abercrombie in action against Melbourne. Photo credit: Getty Images

"The 16 wins has been up on my board for a very long time," said Maor. "It was the No.1 goal and I'm happy we accomplished, we're onto the next one now.

"I keep getting asked if I'm having fun and I told myself, when we get to 16, I'll have fun for a little bit and I'll enjoy it. Then tomorrow, I'll go back to regular."

For most of the contest, the post-season seemed a long way away, with Melbourne seeking their sixth straight win and leading by as many as 11 late in the second quarter. They held their rivals to just 10 first-quarter points and seemed to have the game under control.

But the Breakers closed to within three at halftime (34-31), and piled on 19 unanswered points to edge ahead at the end of the third period and power away to a 16-point advantage in the fourth.

Veteran centre Rob Loe came off the bench for a key contribution of 15 points, while American forward Jarrell Brantley led all scorers with 18. The Breakers enjoyed the benefit of the referee's whistle, visiting the free-throw line 30 times to Melbourne's 12.

They also outscored their opponents 23-13 in points from turnovers, forcing Melbourne into 19 errors.

The result means seventh-placed Melbourne (14-13) cannot catch the Breakers on the competition table and deprive them of a playoff spot. 

The Breakers' remaining games are both on the road, against bottom-placed Illawarra Hawks on Thursday and second-bottom Brisbane Bullets next Saturday, and they will probably need both wins to leapfrog Cairns Taipans into second.

Cairns host Adelaide 36ers on Monday, before visiting Perth Wildcats on Friday.

NZ Breakers 80 (Brantley 18, Loe 15, Rupert 12, Pardon & Brown Jr 11) Melbourne United 74 (Rathan-Mayes 15, Tucker 14, Goulding 11)