Basketball: Perth Wildcats teach timely lessons as resurgent NZ Breakers rekindle ANBL hopes

NZ Breakers coach Mody Maor is sure a 108-102 defeat to Perth Wildcats is a temporary and timely setback, as his team seek to resurrect their Australian NBL hopes.

After four straight wins over Christmas/New Year, the Auckland side saw their run rudely halted by their Western Australia rivals, despite a 14-point lead in the second quarter and 58-53 halftime advantage.

The Wildcats swept into the lead with a 34-19 third period and withstood a comeback that saw the Breakers whittle away at an 18-point deficit down the stretch.   

Former Breaker Tai Webster in action against his old team.
Former Breaker Tai Webster in action against his old team. Photo credit: Getty Images

"We played against a very good team and they taught us a lesson about what wins games," reflected Maor. "For big parts of the game, we didn't do small things that are very important to winning.

"When you play against the best in the competition and don't do those things, your chances to win are very small. Our pick-up in transition, our intensity getting back, boxing out, a few specific things about covers... usually you only focus on the defensive end, but it was also about the offensive end.

"We started the game playing very close to how we want to play - the ball was moving, the players were moving, everything went through multiple actions. Nothing ever stopped and we created a lot of very good shots.

"It's not easy to play like this - it requires effort and focus, and a little bit of sacrifice from everybody. We lost that at some point in the game.

"These are great lessons. We are not supposed to win every game until the end of the season, so playing against this level of competition and getting these lessons now is super important."

Statistically, the Breakers actually outplayed their opponents, currently sitting second on the competition table. They shot better from the field and provided 25 assists among their 35 scoring baskets, but conceded 16 offensive rebounds, which is probably to many.

They were also hammered by officials, who sent Perth to the free-throw line 39 times, compared to 26 for the Breakers. Wildcats star Bryce Cotton shot 16/17 from the charity stripe among his game-high 31 points.

All the Perth starters scored in double figures, as well as Jesse Wagstaff off the bench.

"There's a difference between playing pretty basketball and playing winning basketball," said Moar. "Those things can live together, but playing and feeling good on the court doesn't necessarily translate to winning.

"There are a bunch of areas that are tough and gritty that we can do better, and we will. I'm sure our guys will learn this at both sides of the court."

One encouraging aspect of the loss was the continued improvement of American forward Zylan Chetham, after weeks recovering a broken foot. His return has sparked the Breakers resurgence and even in defeat, his 25-point contribution showed what they had missed in his absence.

"Feeling pretty good," he said. "Today was the most minutes I've played (34 minutes), I've had some good practices... I've just got to build on that and keep moving."

Now eighth on the table, just one game outside the top-six playoff picture, the Breakers can't expect any favours, when they host tabletoppers Melbourne United on Friday.