Basketball: NZ Breakers veteran Tom Abercrombie bids farewell to Spark Arena faithful with buzzerbeating dagger in victory

If this was his final appearance at his adopted homecourt, NZ Breakers skipper Tom Abercrombie certainly gave his many grieving fans something to remember him by.

After an traumatic week that saw him announce his impending retirement after 16 years and 400 games for his beloved local club, the veteran forward and his teammates had to put those emotions aside, as they sought last-ditch entry to the Aussie NBL playoffs.

Victory over Brisbane Bullets would all but clinch that top-six spot on the competition table, defeat would make for an extremely nervous visit to Adelaide for their final regular season game on Sunday.

Tom Abercrombie in action against Brisbane Bullets.
Tom Abercrombie in action against Brisbane Bullets. Photo credit: Photosport

 "It was really important and something we spoke about," reflected Abercrombie. "I didn't want this to be a distraction for the team and we've done a great job all week just focusing on the job at hand.

"We knew it was going to be a really tough, physical game. Brisbane have had a fantastic season and built themselves up into a quality outfit, so we had to bring it.

"We were really pleased by the way we played with that right balance of energy and enthusiasm, while maintaining our focus." 

With Spark Arena packed to the rafters for the occasion, Abercrombie rewarded that loyal support with another vintage moment to add to his career highlight film. With 1.4 seconds left before halftime, the Breakers had the ball out of bounds on the Brisbane baseline, needing a quick shot before the buzzer.

Loitering in the keyhole, Abercrombie simply stepped out to the three-point arc and slotted the long-range basket over the outstretched hand of Bullets centre Rocco Zikarsky, sending the home fans into raptures.

"Mody subbed me in and said, 'Screen for Finn, get him a three'," chuckled Abercrombie. "I said screw that.

"No, they got a bit mixed up... I was playing the 'five' and Rocco just sagged right off. I knew there was about a second left on the clock and popped out, so that was pretty cool.

"The place was popping after that."   

Abercrombie has enjoyed many, many such moments during his tenure, helping the club to four NBL championships, winning MVP honours and hitting gamewinning shots. He was standing next to American import Ekene Ibekwe, when the import hit the club's most famous clutch basket to win the 2015 NBL crown.

This one was a reminder of what Abercrombie has meant to this club for more than a decade. Even coach Mody Maor was close to tears, as his team rode that wave to a 103-87 win that may yet earn another 'last' home appearance for their leader.

"It's really great to see Spark when it's like this," he reflected. "There's a connection between this team and the community and the fans and people that are around...

"That three at the end of the half was probably the loudest I've ever heard Spark - it was amazing."

Tom Abercrombie receives standing ovation at Spark Arena.
Tom Abercrombie receives standing ovation at Spark Arena. Photo credit: Photosport

The NBL playoff format awards automatic semi-finals to the top two teams, with the next four teams scrambling for the remaining two spots. As the ladder stands, the Breakers would finish fifth and host the sixth-placed team - currently Brisbane - in the play-in tournament.

If defending champions Sydney Kings defeat South East Melbourne on Saturday and Breakers lose to Adelaide on Sunday, they may slip to sixth on points differential.

If the Breakers beat Adelaide and Illawarra Hawks lose to tabletoppers Melbourne United, also on Sunday, they may climb to fourth and an away play-in clash with third (Tasmania JackJumpers).

Even if they lose that, they would then host the winners of fifth v sixth for the final semi spot.

Only a massive defeat to the struggling 36ers would see them miss out altogether.

"Every game from now until the end of the season carries a significant weight," insisted Maor. "Being comfortable with that on your shoulders means a lot.

"We have been focused on ourselves for a very long time. I wasn't joking when I said I wasn't sure about the numbers and the ladder, because we just don't have the brain to deal with this.

"We know every position matters and we need to control the things we can control.

"We play until the last second, we squeeze out every opportunity we have to get a stop or score a basket, but we're focused on how we're playing and how we're doing our job, how we're competing etc."