Basketball: NZ Breakers shift focus to defending champions Sydney Kings, set sights on fifth Australian NBL crown

NZ Breakers head coach Mody Maor is at his philosophical best, as he reflects on the remarkable rebuild that has seen his team rebound from two miserable pandemic-plagued seasons to secure their place in the Australian NBL showpiece.

The Breakers' 92-77 win over Tasmania JackJumpers in Sunday's game-three semi-final decider in Auckland propelled them to their first championship series in seven years and within sight of the franchise's fifth title.

According to Maor, the transformation from wooden-spooners to finalists was founded on one simple principle - rebuilding the team's culture.

"Every season is a new book, it's not a new chapter," said Maor, from the bowels of Spark Arena. "We knew exactly what kind of people we wanted in the building, that's where it started.

"The second thing we knew was how we wanted to play and we brought in people that fit what we want to do on defence, and who we want to be as an organisation and as a team."

Perhaps the best - if not, the most impactful - of those people has been Barry Brown Jr, and the American import delivered another timely offensive explosion in their do-or-die clash with the JackJumpers.

The league's Sixth Man of the Year lived up to his mantle, sparking the sputtering Breakers offence to life with a team-high 32 points on 10/16 shooting and helping turn a three-point lead into a comprehensive 15-point victory.

"That's Barry in a nutshell," said captain Tom Abercrombie of his star guard. "He's done it multiple times this year, when we've had games, when we’ve struggled offensively.

"He's that ace in the back pocket, someone who can create their own shot and get things going.

"He did a fantastic job of not settling for his floater, which he's very good at. Mody had a quiet word to him yesterday about trying to take one more dribble and get to the rim.

"He did an awesome job of putting pressure on their defence and they had no answer for him."

Yet again, the Breakers defence remained the cornerstone of their success, dominating the defensive boards and forcing 15 turnovers, converting those takeaways into 29 points.

"It's that ability to relentlessly execute the little things in big games like that and stay focused on the task, and just be so disciplined," Abercrombie added.

"Game one and game three, we were fantastic at that, especially tonight. I thought, defensively, we did a fantastic job.

"They made some shots, but for the most part, it was the playoffs defence, which has always been the backbone of this club."

Veteran swingman Abercrombie has been involved in all four of the Breakers' championships, dating back to their maiden triumph in 2011. 

He believes this current version of the side are - at least - equally as strong as any to have raised a banner, although the new best-of-five format will pose a fresh challenge.

Barry Brown Jr led the way for the Breakers.
Barry Brown Jr led the way for the Breakers. Photo credit: Photosport

"The game has changed a lot in seven years," he said. "This is obviously as good a team as we've ever had,.

"It's a battle within itself, once you get to a finals series and haven't been in a best-of-five series either.

"All the series we’ve played have been best-of-three and best-of-five is a different animal.

"Excited to get back on that stage and get a chance to represent this club in the finals series again. It is a really cool moment to come full circle."

Awaiting them in the finals will be defending champions Sydney Kings, the only side to finish above them in the season standings.

The Kings secured their return to the championship series with a game-three win against Cairns Taipans, putting them in the hunt for back-to-back titles.

This season, the Breakers have won one of their three contests against the Kings, prevailing in Sydney in their most recent encounter last month - a result that should give the side plenty of belief they can cause an upset.

"There's nothing in the world that I’m looking forward to more," Maor said. "They’re the defending champs, the best team in the league.

"This is what finals are supposed to be. Looking forward to it, a lot."

The Kings will have homecourt advantage for the championship series, which begins after the upcoming international window, with game one at Qudos Bank Arena on March 3.