Basketball: NZ Breakers philosophical after blown timeout costs potential gamewinner against Melbourne United

American forward Zylan Cheatham's unfortunate brain explosion has cost NZ Breakers a chance at toppling Australian NBL leaders Melbourne United, as the home side fell in 82-81 thriller at New Plymouth.

With the scores tied and two seconds left on the clock, Melbourne guard Matthew Dellavadova was fouled and sent to the free-throw line for two go-ahead shots. The former NBA champion sank the first to put his team up, but deliberately missed the second to limit the Breakers' ability to set up a response.

Zylan Cheatham in action against Melbourne.
Zylan Cheatham in action against Melbourne. Photo credit: Getty Images

Cheatham grabbed the rebound, but instead of launching a midcourt prayer, he tried to call timeout. In the American NBA and college competitions, that would be a legitimate option, but in the Aussie league, only coaches can call timeouts, and the clock expired before the Breakers could attempt a possible gamewinner.

While miffed at the way the thriller ended, Breakers coach Mody Maor could only put his arm around his player and look forward to the next challenge.

"I love him and I believe in him and mistakes are part of the game," said Maor. "You make mistakes and you recover from them, and that's what's important.

"It's all good."

American teammate Anthony Lamb, who also played through the US system, is sympathetic towards Cheatham.

"I didn't have the ball, so I don't know what I would have done," he said. "He got the rebound - it was a smart play to miss the second [free throw].

"It's different from NBA rules, but it happened. I could have made the same mistake, but that's not what cost us at all, and if it was, we need to become better in every other area, because that's not what you decide a game on ever.

"We must clean up all the other stuff, before I ever say he should have done that better."

In reality, a gamewinner from beyond halfway would have been a truly miraculous play, so Cheatham's chances of salvaging victory were always slim.

In a one-point defeat, you could just as easily point the finger at the technical foul called against Maor for chipping the refs with 3m 50s left, with Melbourne guard Chris Goulding slotting a crucial free throw for a 76-72 lead.

The Breakers should not have needed any luck against the tabletoppers, after leading most of the journey, holding a 10-point advantage in the third quarter, before entering the final period on level terms.

In the final seconds, they were a little unlucky to concede the foul on Dellavadova, who had his back to the basket, but was ruled to be in the act of shooting. Given the opportunity, the 10-year, 500-game NBA veteran was never likely to let it slip.

Goulding led all scorers with 24 points, Dellavadova had 14 points and 10 assists, but Lamb answered with 22 for the Breakers, including five three-pointers. Guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright scored 21 points, while Cheatham had an 11-point/10-rebound double double, but the Breakers bench was outscored 19-3.

"It did feel like a heavyweight fight," reflected Lamb. "You're going toe to toe the whole game and then they come up with some wrinkles and some different things down the stretch that were different from the flow of the game.

"That's how they got a quick lead and then you have to fight your way back. Those things add up and saw us tied at the end of the game.

Anthony Lamb in action against Melbourne United.
Anthony Lamb in action against Melbourne United. Photo credit: Getty Images

"A couple of plays more we needed to make or a couple of plays earlier would have pushed us over the edge, but we will definitely learn a lot from it. Taking it into the next game and rolling with what we learned is part of it.

"That's the best team in the league and if we can go toe to toe with them, we're in a really good spot."

After four straight wins rekindled their playoff hopes, the Breakers have now suffered back-to-back defeats in a torrid draw that has pitted them against the league's top two teams - Perth Wildcats and Melbourne.

That daunting run continues on Sunday, when they visit two-time defending champions Sydney Kings.

Melbourne United 82 (Goulding 24, Dellavedova 14, Travers 13, Hukporti 12) NZ Breakers 81 (Lamb 22, Jackson-Cartwright 21, Mathiang 13, Rubtavicius & Cheatham 11)