Cedric Jackson triple-double paces Breakers to first win of ANBL season
On the day they raised their latest Australian NBL (ANBL) championship banner, the Breakers also provided a significant lift to the spirits of their fanbase with a much-needed Cedric Jackson-inspired return to form.
The defending champions, and winners of four of the last five ANBL crowns, bounced back from a dispiriting season-launching defeat in Adelaide last Wednesday to take care of business effectively in their home opener against the Townsville Crocs in front of a crowd of 5294 at Vector.
An all-the-way 89-81 victory (with six scorers in double-figures) wasn’t just a necessity after that 19-point defeat at the Sixers, but crucial in terms of what lies ahead – with a daunting road double against Illawarra and Perth just days away. A 1-1 record heading into that is much more preferable to remaining on the schneid.
And they did it without inspirational skipper MIka Vukona who snapped a league-best 211-game consecutive appearance streak when he sat this one out with a strained upper hamstring. He’s 50-50 to make the upcoming trip.
The return to action of club stalwarts Tom Abercrombie and Alex Pledger, who both missed the Adelaide game, helped. As did a notable dialling up of the effort levels and a game played at a pace much more to the Breakers’ liking.
With Vukona out, the Breakers needed some inspiration to go with their perspiration, and very much got it from perennial MVP candidate “Action” Jackson as he unleashed the fourth triple-double of his Breakers career.
In his 99th game for the club, Jackson finished with 14 points (5/14 FG), 10 rebounds and 14 assists in a supreme all-round effort. But more than the numbers, his pace, effort and execution were at the level his team needs him to be at.
“We hoped he didn’t want to take on the whole leadership of the team, and we talked to him about ‘let your actions lead this group’. When he is just concerned with what’s going on with him and running the show, he’s an absolutely great player and showed it tonight,” said coach Dean Vickerman.
The other big-time performance for the Breakers came from fill-in guard Everard Bartlett who wants to stay on, even if Corey Webster returns from his NBA tryout in New Orleans. He continued to make a strong case for that with a highly efficient game-high 19 points on seven-of-nine shooting – including a slick five of seven from beyond the arc.
“It definitely felt good,” said Bartlett of his display. “It helps when the shot is going down, but that was on the end of a lot of effort plays by the team. We wanted to match them on the boards, and we got stops which led to fast breaks and we got our momentum up.
“When our tails are up the shots start to fall down.”
The Breakers shot a much-improved 10 of 18 from three-point country (Vickerman was rapt with the efficiency) and also earned 25 trips to the free-throw line by attacking the rim a lot more than in their opener.
Reuben Te Rangi, roving between small and power forward off the bench, also stepped up his output, making all three of his triple attempts to finish with 12 points, while import big man Charles Jackson hinted at some tasty things to come with plenty of effort going into his 12 points, eight boards and three blocks.
Undoubtedly the return of Abercrombie and Pledger helped too. Abercrombie didn’t dazzle the statsheet (11 points, five boards and a pair of assists) but added a poise at both ends of the court, while Pledger’s 2.15m frame and massive wingspan was a big factor off the bench as he chimed in with six points, six rebounds and three blocks in 15 minutes.
Vickerman said Pledger had made a significant contribution after being touch and go about playing at morning shootaround and he felt Abercrombie had been crucial in lifting the attacking mindset.
Strong man Tai Wesley was the other key contributor with 11 points (5/14 FG), seven boards and a game-high three steals.
The Crocs were paced by their imports, with Jordair Jett getting going late to finish with 17 points and reigning MVP Brian Conklin plugging away for a double-double of 15 points and 10 rebounds.
The Breakers led all the way, though could never quite shake the Crocs completely loose as they led by eight (29-17) after the first quarter, by 10 at the half and by a dozen heading into the final stanza.
In a league notable for its compact schedule, the Breakers will not have much time to reflect on their first win as they ready for that double at Illawarra on Wednesday and Perth on Friday.
NZ Breakers 89 (Everard Bartlett 19, Cedric Jackson 14, Reuben Te Rangi 12, Tom Abercrombie 11, Charles Jackson 12, Tai Wesley 11), Townsville Crocs 81 (Jordair Jett 17, Brian Conklin 15). 1Q: 29-17; HT: 48-38; 3Q: 66-54.