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New Zealand Breakers win NBL title over Cairns Taipans after Ekene Ibekwe’s buzzer beater

Match-winner: Ekene Ibekwe nailed the buzzer beater which lifted the NZ Breakers to their fourth championship in five NBL seasons. Photo: Hannah Peters Match-winner: Ekene Ibekwe nailed the buzzer beater which lifted the NZ Breakers to their fourth championship in five NBL seasons. Photo: Hannah Peters
Nanjing Night Net

Match-winner: Ekene Ibekwe nailed the buzzer beater which lifted the NZ Breakers to their fourth championship in five NBL seasons. Photo: Hannah Peters

Match-winner: Ekene Ibekwe nailed the buzzer beater which lifted the NZ Breakers to their fourth championship in five NBL seasons. Photo: Hannah Peters

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The Breakers are champions again, thanks to a clutch fade-away, title-winning jump-shot from ice-cool big man Ekene Ibekwe

In a terrific Game 2 of the NBL grand final series, the Breakers claimed their fourth championship in five years with an 83-81 victory over a gallant Cairns Taipans outfit, who looked for all money as if they were heading to a decider throughout a surging final quarter.

After winning Game 1 in Cairns on Friday night, today’s victory completed a 2-0 sweep of the Taipans and a second straight post-season sweep for the Kiwi club, who also achieved the feat in the 2012-13 season.

But somehow the Breakers managed to claw their way back from a six-point deficit (71-77) inside the final three minutes. A three from Tom Abercrombie, who had a team-high 19 points, got things rolling and in a thrilling finish that had the capacity crowd of 4400 almost lifting the roof off the old stadium, the home side came up big when it mattered.

Mika Vukona had levelled at 78-78 with 44 seconds left with a pugnacious putback, but that was just the start of things as both teams made their moves. With 17 seconds left Vukona made two free-throws to put his team back in front, 81-79, only for Scottie Wilbekin to level things back up again with two foul shots of his own with just 1.2 seconds remaining, off a contentious Cedric Jackson foul.

Enter Ibekwe, the LA-born, Nigerian international with the impossibly long wingspan. The ball found its way to him off the inbounds pass, and as he spun away from his man, he launched his trademark, arcing jumper that found the basket, and launched pandemonium at the Events Centre.

It’s the Breakers’ ninth straight playoff victory and ends a drought of 14 years since the last time the lower seeded team won the grand final. It was also their fourth straight series sweep.

The Taipans had produced a surging 20-14 third quarter to grab the lead, and then made a succession of big triples over the final stanza to edge out to an advantage that sat around the half-dozen mark for so long.

But then came the dramatics over the run home, and it was the Breakers, with all that championship experience, who made the big plays when they were most required.

The Breakers got a huge game out of springy small forward Abercrombie, who dialled in his jump shot to pace his team with 19 points on seven-of-12 shooting. He made two of his four triples and added three steals in a game when he very much stood up and was counted.

Jackson, named MVP of the finals, had 15 points, six rebounds, seven assists and three steals in performance brimming with intensity. He simply willed his team over the line.

Cool, clutch Ibekwe, the hero, added 14 points, four rebounds and two blocks, and no one will forget his final shot.

Tai Wesley also had a big game off the bench with 12 points, five boards and two assists, while the indefatigable Vukona finished with nine points and eight rebounds in another warrior display.

Corey Webster chimed in with 11 points on five-of-11 shooting.

The Taipans were paced by 17 points and five boards from veteran Cam Tragardh, while import Torrey Craig (16 points) and sharpshooter Cam Gliddon (16 points) were their other main contributors.

The Breakers had shaded a quality, high-intensity first half 44-39, but not before the Taipans made it clear they were not going to roll over in this closeout contest for their hosts.

With a capacity crowd packing the old-school NSEC, the atmosphere was electric and the Breakers came out sizzling as they threatened to bust the game open in the first quarter.

When the home lead hit eight inside five minutes, and the Breakers were converting all their energy into a pace that suits them to a tee, it could easily have unravelled for the Taipans. But they hung tough, dug in for the fight, and worked their way back into the contest.

By the end of the first period the Breakers led by six (23-17), but even as Jackson found his range from deep the Snakes were taking as much as they were giving as they trailed by just five, 44-39, at the major break.

Tragardh got busy in the third as he made four straight buckets to eat up the deficit for the Taipans and as Wilbekin finally found his shot late in the quarter the Taipans had got the lead for the first time in the game, 59-58.

From there it stayed close, right through to that dramatic, fairytale finish.

NZ Breakers 83 (Tom Abercrombie 19, Cedric Jackson 15, Ekene Ibekwe 14, Tai Wesley 12, Corey Webster 11) Cairns Taipans 81 (Cam Tragardh 17, Torrey Craig 16, Cameron Gliddon 16). 1Q: 23-17; HT: 44-39; 3Q: 58-59

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