Game one of the NBL grand final series has arrived. After 126 regular season matches and six play-off games, tonight the two premier teams in the competition face off at Auckland's Vector Arena.
The rivalry between these two teams is anything but manufactured. It has been built on engrossing tussles and mutual respect.
These sides have shared the past two championships while New Zealand holds a 2-1 series split over the Wildcats this season, separated only by a thrilling overtime result in Perth in which the Wildcats blew a nine-point lead in the last quarter.
Adding to the hostilities, the Wildcats have not forgotten it was the Breakers who ended their championship defence 12 months ago.
"Last year I truly believe if we'd had (Shawn) Redhage we would have won the championship," Perth coach Rob Beveridge told ABC Grandstand.
"We won game one over here in the semi-final series and it was an incredible game by (Kirk) Penney and (Kevin) Braswell at home. We were very much disappointed we didn't go through to the grand final."
The Breakers have again provided an injury byplay to the week, this time centred around star swingman Thomas Abercrombie.
The reigning finals MVP landed awkwardly on his ankle late in game three against the Crocs, and the injury has been the most talked about topic in the lead up to tonight's fixture in Auckland.
It is a sight the Wildcats are all to familiar with, following Mika Vukona's starring comeback from a knee injury to pull in 10 rebounds in last year's semi-final in Perth.
"I'm not buying into it at all," Beveridge said.
"Right now I know Abercrombie will be playing, simple as that. We've prepared as if Abercrombie is going to be there. We haven't changed any game plan whatsoever."
Tonight will also be the first time the Wildcats have played at Vector Arena.
The stadium hosted five Breakers fixtures this season, of which the home side won four.
Their only loss came in game one of the semi-final series against Townsville.
The NBL has declared tonight's game a sell out. Vector Arena seats 9,190 spectators, and tonight's crowd is almost certain to set a new Breakers club and New Zealand basketball attendance record.
Coach Beveridge was impressed when Wildcats had their first look at the arena during today's shoot around.
"I keep saying to our players, this is a very special moment, six of us have experience winning a championship but for the other five players it's going to be fantastic for them to absorb this atmosphere."
Among those five players is Matthew Knight, who celebrates his 100th game, and Luke Nevill who reaches the 50-game milestone.
The Wildcats understand the importance of claiming game one as the traveling team.
"We think if we can win today, we feel fantastic about going home and closing it in two," Beveridge added.
"But that's the Cinderella story, we'd love to do it on our home court."
Of the past 26 grand final series, just four times has a side recovered from defeat in game one to win the championship.
Moreover, it has happened only twice in 20 attempts where travel is such a factor.
In the last 20 best-of-three series in the NBL, the team ranked higher has won 19.
Tickets for game two in Perth on Friday, April 20, sold out within minutes of going on sale to the general public yesterday.
Live coverage of game one can be heard on ABC Grandstand Digital and streaming online from 5:30pm EST, 3:30pm WST.Tags: nbl, basketball, sport, new-zealand, perth-6000, wa, australia First posted April 12, 2012 13:54:29