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Breakers threaten as Wildcats move clear

By Chris Pike
7 December 2013 12:31AM EST

PERTH might have stretched its lead atop the NBL with a win over New Zealand and with Townsville upsetting Adelaide but the Breakers showed that they are still a force to be reckoned with.

Both NBL fixtures on Friday night were thrillers and both decided by four points in the finish with the Townsville Crocodiles beating the Adelaide 36ers 98-94 at The Swamp and then the Perth Wildcats holding out the New Zealand Breakers in a grand final rematch 95-91 at Perth Arena.

The night of NBL action started in Townsville and it was the first of two thrillers with the Crocodiles eventually prevailing by just four points thanks to a terrific final quarter.

The win improves Townsville to a 4-5 record on the season to still be well and truly in the playoff hunt while Adelaide slips to 8-3 to fall a further game back from the Wildcats but still remain anchored in second position on the ladder.

Experienced point guard Steve Markovic was the star of the night for the Crocodiles in the victory finishing with 31 points, four assists, four steals and two rebounds.

Even more impressive was his hot shooting from beyond the three-point line with him nailing 8-of-11 in his best performance this season since returning to Australia after a successful stint in Europe.

He got good support from Crocs import swingman Josh Pace who had 18 points, six rebounds and two blocked shots while shooting 9-of-17 from the field.

Mitch Norton also had 12 points for the Crocodiles while Brian Conklin added 10 to go with six rebounds and four assists. Veteran power forward Jacob Holmes had 10 points also.

It was just Adelaide's third loss of the season with star import point guard Gary Ervin finishing the night with 22 points in his first visit back to Townsville since spending last season with the Crocs.

Big man Daniel Johnson added 17 points, five boards and four assists for the 36ers while Anthony Petrie had 16 points (eight rebounds), Jason Cadee 12 and captain Adam Gibson eight to go with his five rebounds and five assists.

And in Perth, it took scorching performances from imports James Ennis and Jermaine Beal for the NBL-leading Perth Wildcats to hold off the New Zealand Breakers 95-91.

Despite the loss, the Breakers took the Wildcats' best shots and fought back from near 20-point deficits on multiple occasions to force the game to be decided in the dying stages with the three-time defending champions showing they are still a force to be reckoned with this season.

The Wildcats never trailed the entire night and did lead by as many as 18 points in the second quarter and then again by 16 during the third, but the Breakers refused to lie down.

Shortly after falling 18 points down in the second quarter, New Zealand went on an 11-0 run and scored 16 of 18 straight points to get to as close as three points and then trailing by just five points at half-time.

Perth got going again early in the third to open up another potentially match-winning lead, but again the Breakers fought back hard.

The visitors went on an 8-0 run early in the final period and then back-to-back baskets from Mika Vukona made the margin just a point with two minutes remaining.

That's as close as New Zealand got, though, with Ennis hitting the last seven points for Perth to seal the win – the clutcher being a monster shot clock-beating banked in three with just six second to go.

New Zealand at a 4-7 record might now be a long way behind the 11-1 Perth but if the two happen to meet again come finals time all the signs are there of another classic battle. The best part of this game for the NBL is that the two teams meet again next Friday at Vector Arena.

The difference in the end was the performance from Perth's two imports though.

Ennis finished with 31 points on 10-of-16 shooting with 3-of-6 from long range with his night including three first quarter slams including one that came in the open floor after he threw the ball off the back board and then threw it down.

His import partner Beal hit 8-of-15 from three-point territory as well to finish with 30 points. Matt Knight was the only other Wildcats player to finish in double-figures with 12 points and rebounds.

Gary Wilkinson played his best game this season since returning for the Breakers to replace underperforming import Darnell Lazare. He finished with 19 points and eight rebounds.

Captain Vukona had 17 points and six rebounds for the Breakers before fouling out late in the contest. Daryl Corletto caught fire from long-range with 4-of-5 making up his 14 points while Tom Abercrombie added 11 and Kerron Johnson 10 to go with five assists and three rebounds.

NBL Round 9 continues on Saturday with the Wollongong Hawks hosting the Sydney Kings at the WIN Entertainment Centre and the Cairns Taipans taking on the Adelaide 36ers at the Cairns Convention Centre.

Then on Sunday, the Melbourne Tigers battle the New Zealand Breakers at The Cage.

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