Basketball: NZ Breakers dig deep into painful experiences to keep Aussie NBL playoff hopes alive

As the fourth quarter against Illawarra Hawks began, history - bad history - seemed to be repeating.

Ahead 68-61 with victory there for the taking, NZ Breakers conceded 13 unanswered points, failing to score for more than 2m 30s, to trail by six, gifting their rivals all the momentum down the stretch of a must-win contest.

They had been here before. 

Captain Tom Abercrombie and his Breakers celebrate victory over Illawarra.
Captain Tom Abercrombie and his Breakers celebrate victory over Illawarra. Photo credit: Photosport

In fact, over 25 games this Aussie NBL season, the Auckland-based team have been outscored in the final quarter 16 times by a total of 64 points. More than half their defeats - seven of 13 to be exact - have seen them blow leads in the fourth period.

The Breakers have had trouble closing out games and this looked ominously like more of that, just when they desperately needed victory to keep their playoff chances alive.

With topscorer Anthony Lamb sidelined for the season with an Achilles tendon tear, the odds seemed stacked against last season's beaten finalists, but somehow they dragged themselves back to their feet, scoring the next seven points.

They trailled again with less than three minutes remaining, but edged ahead for an 88-85 win. 

"Adversity... we've faced our fair share," admitted coach Mody Maor. "Adversity can take you places that you couldn't get without it, as long as you learn the lessons.

"It can break you and send you down a very bad path, but if you take the right lessons from it, you come out the other side stronger. This is this team.

"If this game was in November, we don't win this. When they go on a run, we respond by trying to go on a run of our own, and not by buckling down and getting stops and rebounding.

"We've learned our lessons, which is great, and it's something we're taking towards every game."

The result could not have happend without a superhuman offensive effort from American guard Parker Jackson-Carter, who led all scorers with 31 points from 13/21 shooting, while dishing seven assists. Like most teams, the Hawks could not find an answer for the import's blinding speed.

In Lamb's absence, Aussie Will Mcdowall-White (16 points, including four three-pointers) stepped into the void, showing the ability that made him such a vital cog in the Breakers' championship bid last season.

"We learn on the fly quickly and we implement it really fast," observed Jackson-Carter. "I think that's just the IQ of this team and how hard we work on those little things. 

Parker Jackson-Carter in action against Illawarra Hawks.
Parker Jackson-Carter in action against Illawarra Hawks. Photo credit: Photosport

"It feels good to get a win like that and we've just got to keep going.

"Whether it's Anthony or [Zylan Cheatham], who got hurt early on, you just how we've been dealt with adversity and how we've handled it. We just keep going, we keep a positive mindset and we listen to our leader, and we fight to try and get these games."

That adversity shows no sign of dissipating with three games remaining and five teams still within a win of each other, competing for the final two post-season spots. Wins for the Breakers and Brisbane Bullets have seen champions Sydney Kings drop out of the top six.

Next up are tabletoppers Melbourne United, away on Sunday.

"You need to be prepared to play back-to-back the second the NBL season starts," said Maor. "The we plan, we load, the way we go about our business is to give us the best opportunity to compete in these.

"It's going to be hard, because for some reason, these games are in the middle of the day, but it does not matter. Hard is just the way we like it."