The New Zealand Breakers’ NBL finals hopes are in the hands of Melbourne United after the Kiwi club saw off South East Melbourne Phoenix 92-83 in Christchurch.
It may have been a messy performance but the Breakers completed an exceptional second half of the season on Friday, notching an 11th win from 14 games to climb to fourth place.
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They now await their fate, with a 15-13 record potentially not enough to qualify for the post-season.
Brisbane (14-13) will move ahead of the Breakers if they hammer Cairns by about 30 points on Saturday.
More realistically, Melbourne (14-13) will climb to fourth if they beat the Phoenix on Sunday, with the winning margin of that game not a factor.
Melbourne’s 99-83 win over Cairns on Thursday put them in the box seat and left the Breakers needing to thrash the lowly South East Melbourne to improve their odds.
John Roberson topscored for the Phoenix with 15 points. Picture: Getty ImagesSource:Getty Images
That never looked like happening, with the hosts never leading by double figures and having to fight hard just to secure a win in their final regular season game, having fallen six points behind early in the final quarter.
The Breakers were sluggish early and their offence only fired in bursts, led by star import Scotty Hopson, whose 23 points and 10 assists were both game highs.
Kiwis Rob Loe and Thomas Abercrombie both notched 18 points.
Hopson, who hopes he’s done enough to earn a return to the NBA next season, said a blowout margin was never the priority.
“Winning is what we focused on today, just winning by at least one point,” he told Sky TV.
“I don’t think we played our best game today but we got the victory and that’s all that matters. We just wait and see.”
Scotty Hopson was the spark for the Breakers. Picture: Getty ImagesSource:Getty Images
It was a seventh straight loss for the Phoenix, who were missing injured Boomers star Mitch Creek.
Six players scored in double figures although only John Roberson was able to reach 15 points.
Fellow-guard Adam Gibson scored all of his 12 points in the final quarter, all via three-point shots as the visitors threatened a boilover.
Breakers captain Abercrombie said the Phoenix showed enough to suggest they could deliver his side the ultimate favour and topple Melbourne United in Sunday’s season-ending derby.
“These guys are a tough team, even without Creek. Other guys stepped up tonight and came out and played really hard and made us fight for it,” he said.
“The Phoenix are a tough team and they’re capable of winning that last game. I expect them to go hard and get the win.”
BARLOW OF OLD RETURNS
Four-time NBL champion David Barlow’s return to form has buoyed Melbourne United coach Dean Vickerman ahead of Sunday night’s cutthroat derby.
United must defeat South East Melbourne Phoenix at Melbourne Arena to punch a ticket to the NBL post-season.
Barlow, 36, who starred in Thursday night’s win over Cairns with 15 points and seven rebounds, will be instrumental on Sunday night as a perimeter sniper and strong defensive presence.
“He brought the old Barlow,” Vickerman said.
“I thought he turned down one he should have shot but other than that there was a good mix of him shooting the three-ball and attacking the rim.
“I think that’s when he’s a really tough cover, able to do both those things.”
In recent years, Barlow has carved a niche as the “connector” for United’s star guards and centres.
David Barlow was on song against the Taipans. Picture: Getty ImagesSource:Getty Images
But an interrupted start to the season, due to a finger injury, and mixed success on the hardwood curbed the two-time Olympian’s output until the past two games.
It has also helped that since star import Melo Trimble’s well-documented move to the bench, Mitch McCarron is being called upon early in matches to spark the offence.
“We all got into a phase a while back where we didn’t think we were passing the ball well enough,” Vickerman said.
“He (Barlow) got disappointed about some of the reads he made and I think that got in his head a bit, so now he’s making quicker decisions.
“Either he sees it and throws it or he moves it quickly and gets into the next action.”
After battling to put solid quarters — let alone games — together in the second half of the season, United has rediscovered its best, winning three of the past four matches.
It also has Phoenix’s measure, winning the past two Throwdowns after being stunned in the season-opener at Melbourne Arena.
Originally published asPhoenix can put end to United’s playoffs bid
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