AAP image/Aaron Gillions
Barry Brown Jr’s brilliance has catapulted the New Zealand Breakers into their first NBL grand final since 2015 with a 92-77 victory over the Tasmania JackJumpers in Game 3 of the semifinals.
Recently voted the NBL’s Best Sixth Man, Brown (32 points) stimulated the Breakers out of a cold start at Auckland’s Spark Arena on Sunday and into a best-of-five championship series with reigning champions Sydney.
Big Dererk Pardon (15 points, 13 rebounds) led a dominant display on the boards by the Breakers, who hit an astonishing 24-of-24 free throws to end the JackJumpers’ fairytale dream of two grand finals in two years.
The result continues a remarkable, rags-to-riches turnaround by the Breakers, who secured last year’s wooden spoon while unable to play any home games in NZ due to border restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Jack McVeigh (22 points) led the charge for the JackJumpers, who started brightly but spluttered down the stretch.
“The two best teams are in the (grand) final,” JackJumpers coach Scott Roth said.
“They were just better than us tonight … they wore us down a little bit, but we’re onto bigger and better things.
“I’m super proud of our group.”
The Breakers were awful early, unable to buy a bucket and falling behind 13-2 before Brown came on and sparked their fightback.
Providing steals, assists and scoring punch off the bench, Brown masterrminded a 14-0 burst either side of quartertime to turn a 25-17 deficit into a 31-25 lead.
After pulling ahead 49-42 at halftime after their commanding 28-17 second term, the Breakers stretched their buffer to 15 points on Brown’s brilliance midway though the third.
McVeigh and Rashard Kelly made significant inroads into the deficit, closing the third period with a 16-4 run to slice NZ’s lead to three points at three-quarter-time.
Jarrell Brantley fouled out for the Breakers midway through the fourth stanza but Pardon’s rebounding and Brown’s panache proved decisive late as NZ stamped their authority.
“I’m very happy and proud,” Breakers coach Mody Maor said.
“I’ll stay happy and proud today and get to work tomorrow.
“There’s nothing in the world I’m looking forward to more (than the grand final).”