Dominant: New Zealand’s Corey Webster shone against the Cairns Taipans. Photo: Brian CasseyToo much Corey Webster, too much Tai Wesley.
That was the one-two punch that powered the NZ Breakers to a statement 90-67 victory over the Cairns Taipans in the much-anticipated first matchup of the new NBL season between last year’s grand finalists at Vector Arena.
Both Webster and Wesley posted career-best points totals as they had their way with a surprisingly soft Taipans defence throughout a game that was close for a half (42-37 at the break), but ended up being decidedly one-sided in the Breakers’ favour as they coasted home over the closing two quarters.
Webster simply oozed class as he took his play up several notches from his return from NBA duty last week against the Kings. We’ll call that one (22 points) his sighter.
He was nigh on unstoppable in this Wednesday night clash in front of a disappointingly small crowd of 4347 in downtown Auckland, finishing with a career-high 35 points, four rebounds and a pair of steals. He made 14 of his 26 shots (three of eight from distance) and produced such a glorious array of step-back and pull-up jumpers that he made the difficult art of scoring look decidedly easy.
Wesley was also magnificent as he made a serious statement about his importance in the larger scheme of things for the Breakers who have now won two straight and are 3-3 for the season.
On a night when the Breakers’ two biggest players struggled, Wesley produced a monster effort in his favourite spot on the low block, spinning past or powering through outmatched defenders with ridiculous ease.
He also surpassed his club best with 26 points on nine-of-14 shooting, including one of two from beyond the arc. Throw in eight rebounds and it was some sort of night for the Guam-qualified American power forward.
Cedric Jackson added 10 points, eight boards and five assists for the Breakers, while Tom Abercrombie (eight points, seven boards and a pair of blocks) and Mika Vukona (seven points and seven rebounds in just 16 minutes) were reduced to minor roles.
The Taipans scored just 30 second-half points and gave up 48, as they went flat right when they couldn’t afford to. They were paced by 17 points from Saints marksman Torrey Craig but there was too little of consequence from normally reliable operators like Mark Worthington, Cameron Gliddon, Stephen Weigh and Alex Loughton.
“We talked about being a little bit second and third gear in the first half … we knew they were at the end of a tough road trip and if we just locked down on our defence we had a chance to break the game open in the second half,” coach Dean Vickerman said.
“I thought Mika’s effort early in the third quarter when he comes up with two offensive rebounds and a score was the effort required to start the quarter.
“After that Corey and Wesley were outstanding. You get very good players like that you keep things pretty simple, and we gave Corey enough catches and enough space to make great decisions. A lot of teams in the world now don’t like the mid-range jump shot but it’s something he’s perfected and when that thing is going every one of those ball looked like they had a pretty good chance of going in.
“Wesley just had a great balance of scoring in the middle and making his baseline spins. He made really good assessments in the postup about the way he scored.”
The Breakers did well to shake off a slow start – they missed their first five shot attempts – and a handful of early fouls to build a 21-16 lead by the end of the opening quarter. They were helped by a couple of audacious step-back triples from Webster late in the piece (he had 11 points for the term, nailing all three of his attempts from deep), after the Taipans had built the early lead.
But the Snakes hung tough through the second period, and with the calls going their way (the foul count was 12-6 against the hosts for the half) the Breakers struggled to put any separation between themselves and the North Queenslanders, leading just 42-37 at the major break.
But for the three-point shooting it could have been even closer, the Breakers knocking down seven of their 12 long-balls, and the Taipans – the NBL’s worst team from the land of plenty – going just one of eight.
The Webster magic continued in the third as the Breakers won the quarter 20-12, with the classy Tall Black contributing half of that total with an array of step-back jumpers that are fast becoming this young man’s specialty. With the lead at 13 (62-49) this one was all but in the bag, and soon was as the hosts, spurred by Vukona’s early flurry, started the final quarter with the urgency they needed to seal the deal.
“I thought we did some really good things that first half,” Taipans coach Aaron Fearne said. “The second half we started the very first possession by giving up two offensive rebounds and a layup, and it just snowballed big time from there. Corey got hot and just went to work and we had no answer for that.”
The Breakers shot a tidy 51 percent from the floor, 44 from deep and won the rebound count 44-31. They also had just 10 turnovers and kept their opponents to just 38 percent shooting in their best overall effort of the season.
Next up are the Adelaide 36ers at the NSEC next Thursday.