A Finn Delany-inspired New Zealand Breakers have made a dent in the Sydney Kings' NBL finals hopes after their first home game in 15 months delivered an 89-81 victory.
The Kings showed plenty of fight, reeling in a 21-point third-term deficit to trail by five with more than three minutes left but the Breakers were not to be denied, capping a dream homecoming at Auckland's The Trusts Arena.
It seemed only something special would spoil the Breakers' party on Thursday after the hosts appeared revitalised in front of a sold-out crowd of more than 3000 fans in their first home game in 461 days due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.
Indeed, a Breakers outfit out of finals contention looked like a different team after returning from a five-month stint in Australia and finally playing a game in New Zealand for the first time since the coronavirus outbreak struck in February, 2020.
Yet a Kings outfit desperate to stay in contention for a top-four finish rallied late through import Casper Ware who dropped 20 points including 13 in the final term to almost silence the Breakers faithful.
But in the end, the Breakers snapped a four-game losing streak with Delany standing tall with 28 points and 12 rebounds.
The Kings suffered their fourth loss in five games, dropping out of the top four with a 15-16 record with five games remaining.
Sydney were leapfrogged by Illawarra Hawks (15-15) on a congested table that also has Brisbane Bullets (14-15) in striking distance.
The Kings must regroup before their re-match with the Breakers at New Plymouth on Saturday if they are to remain in the finals hunt.
"It has been a couple of games in a row now where we have struggled to get some scores in big chunks of the game," Kings coach Adam Forde said.
"It is something we need to address and quickly."
After scores were level 26-26 at the first break, the Breakers skipped away 51-39 by halftime and romped to a 74-54 buffer at the final interval.
The Kings still had their chances as Breakers stars Tai Webster (11 points), Levi Randolph (13 points, nine rebounds) and Colton Iverson fouled out in the final minutes.
But the visitors couldn't bridge the gap despite the best efforts of Ware, Jarell Martin (18 points) and Xavier Cooks (15 points in 16 minutes).
"I definitely thought we were a chance. I would like to go back and change the last three minutes but the reality is we put ourselves in the position where we were down 21," Forde said.
The Breakers (10-20 record) look set to embrace a spoiler role when they close out the season with another six games in New Zealand.
"It was really good playing in front of a home crowd, a much different feeling and energy to the game," Delany said.