Basketball: NZ Breakers book ANBL finals spot, dispatching Tasmania JackJumpers in semi decider

NZ Breakers can take aim at a fifth Australian NBL crown, after booking a best-of-five finals showdown against defending champions Sydney Kings.

American Barry Brown Jr has come off the bench for a game-high 32 points to lead the Auckland-based club back to the finals series, seven years after losing to Perth Wildcats at the final hurdle.

The Breakers won three consecutive titles from 2011-13 and another in 2015, but have more recently fallen on lean times under new ownership and during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last year, based across the Tasman, they won just five games and finished at the foot of the competition ladder. Twelve months later, they secured an automatic semi-final berth and home advantage by finishing second on the table.

Jarrelle Brantley in action against Tasmania
Jarrell Brantley in action against Tasmania. Photo credit: Photosport

What a difference a year makes.

"Very happy," said coach Mody Maor. "We worked all year to get home court and it was worth every penny.

"I'm blessed to have incredible partners everywhere - management, coaching staff and players. They made this so much fun and I was really not ready for this season to end.

"I really couldn't face them, if we didn't get one more practice. I'm happy to get to see them again."

After winning the opening game of their series against Tasmania - last year's beaten finalists - the Breakers were forced into a decider at Auckland's Spark Arena, when the JackJumpers prevailed on their homecourt midweek.

The visitors started stronger, opening an early 11-point lead and still ahead 25-21 after the opening quarter.

The Breakers' fortunes began to change, when Brown Jr, named NBL Sixth Man of the Year, was introduced into the contest and began to heat up. They took their first lead early in the second quarter and were never again headed, leading by 15 midway through the third period.

All three American imports - Brown Jr, centre Dererk Pardon and forward Jarrell Brantley - battled foul trouble, as Maor shuffled his deck to keep them in the game.

Tasmania reduced the deficit late in the third quarter to trail by three points into the final period and the Breakers finally lost Brantley to his fifth foul with 4m 43s remaining, but Brown scored seven straight points and Pardon converted an alley-oop pass from guard Will McDowell-White to put the result beyond doubt.

Pardon dominated the glass, compiling a 15 points/14 rebounds double double that featured five offensive boards. Brantley had 14 points, while veteran centre Rob Loe contributed 11 points and eight rebounds (five offensive) in just 11 minutes.

The Breakers outscored their rivals in every department - 29-14 from turnovers, 46-28 in the paint, 19-7 in second-chance attempts and 18-2 off the fast break.

With an international window looming, with both Australia and New Zealand contesting World Cup qualifying, the final series won't start for another two weeks, with Game One scheduled for March 3 at Sydney.

NZ Breakers 92 (Brown Jr 32, Pardon 15, Brantley 14, Loe 11, Lea'afa 10) Tasmania JackJumpers 77 (McVeigh 22, Kelly 16, MacDonald 14, Doyle 12)