The New Zealand Breakers bravely stayed in the finals hunt with their third straight win on Friday night in Wollongong, coming from behind to beat the Illawarra Hawks 95-86 at WIN Entertainment Centre.
Leading by two at half-time, the Hawks inexplicably lost their way in the third quarter when they made just 4/17 shots and were pounded 16-5 on the glass.
The Breakers trailed by 13 in the second period before stunning the Hawks with a second-half lockdown to claim their 11th win and join Sydney in fourth spot.
Illawarra (12-11) remain second on the ladder but blew a perfect chance to strengthen their position.
American import Kevin Dillard starred for New Zealand with a game-high 26 points, Kirk Penney tormented his former team with 23, while Rob Loe and Alex Pledger combined for 23.
AJ Ogilvy led the Hawks with 16 and Rotnei Clarke finished with 14.
After racking up 52 points on 17/36 shooting in the first half, Illawarra were a dismal 10/33 in the second half.
The Hawks held an early 8-3 lead before the Breakers worked their way into the contest with seven unanswered points.
Penney worked his magic off the screen for a quick nine points, as the lead changed hands 11 times over the next five minutes.
Clarke came out swinging off the bench, draining his first three and dishing to Tim Coenraad on the break for another triple, helping the Hawks close with a 12-2 run for a 31-23 quarter-time lead.
Danger signs loomed for the desperate Breakers when the margin swelled to 13, but they frustrated the Hawks, fighting back to within six with four minutes left in the half.
Dillard silenced the home crowd when he boldly splashed back to back triples to tie the game at 48-all with a minute remaining in the half, before the Hawks managed to forge ahead 52-50 at half-time.
Illawarra made 47 per cent of their shots and had all 10 players on the scoresheet, led by Ogilvy’s 11 points.
Penney paced the Breakers with 14, while Dillard and Pledger had 11 apiece.
Dillard’s late burst put him in the right mindset for the third period, as New Zealand swiftly took control on his quick-fire eight points.
He made his fifth three of the game right in front of the Illawarra bench and celebrated by shouting in the direction of Hawks coach Rob Beveridge, who was far from impressed.
The suddenly unstoppable Breakers rolled to a 76-66 three-quarter time lead, punctuated by Loe’s buzzer-beating triple from the corner.
Illawarra had no answers in the final period, falling behind by as many as 18.
The only consolation for the home side was the fact they claimed the four-game series with the Breakers on a superior margin differential.
Both teams will back up for games on Sunday, with the Hawks on the road against Cairns and the Breakers hosting Perth.
NEW ZEALAND BREAKERS 95 (Dillard 26, Penney 23, Pledger 12)
ILLAWARRA HAWKS 86 (Ogilvy 16, Clarke 14, Coenraad 11, Kay 11)