CAMBEWARRA’S James Hunter and his table-topping New Zealand Breakers have landed the first blow in the 2017/18 edition of the NBL's yearly heavyweight title fight, dispatching Perth 88-84 on Thursday evening at Vector Arena.
The combined decade of dominance -- the last eight NBL championships coming from these two clubs (four apiece) -- shows no signs of slowing down, with New Zealand's faithful treated to one of the highest quality games in this young season.
But the Breakers' hustle stats won the day in the first leg of this weekend's home-and-home double header.
The 41-33 rebounding dominance will be seen as unacceptable in the prideful Perth Wildcats camp, setting the scene for an even more intense battle back in Western Australia on Sunday.
Post-game, Breakers coach Paul Henare took pride in his players' efforts up and down the list.
"Every guy that stepped on the floor had a really positive impact," Henare said.
"When [the bench players] are out on the floor, they're out there for a reason.
“Not just to play a role, but to have a positive impact and play to their strengths."
Breakers import DJ Newbill (17 points, four rebounds, six assists) was their best, leading the way with multiple hustle plays when it counted.
For the 'Cats, Bryce Cotton was a one-man show for most of the night with 26 points on 10/18 shooting, while JP Tokoto (15 points) cooled off after a hot start.
The battle of the rangy small forwards was hot from the get-go, with Tokoto showing off the jumpshot while Thomas Abercrombie swung off a high pick and drained a three of his own.
The first half was a high-quality affair as defence generally set the tone. Cotton (13 first-half points) and Tokoto (10) had their moments in the first half, but it was a jumpshooting affair.
The Breakers' zone allowed few deep penetration opportunities for the 'Cats stars, with most Perth paint points coming from offensive rebounds or the in-between game.
A total of nine free throws were shot in a fast-flowing half, with the Breakers going into half-time 41-38 leaders on the back of a 22-16 rebound count.
But if the first half was good, the second was extraordinary.
Patient offence and knuckle-down defence was sprinkled with individual brilliance as Cotton (20 points by three-quarter time) kept rolling, while Tokoto's production fell off a cliff.
Every Breaker had hit the scoreboard by half-time and the theme of sharing the sugar continued in the third, with Sosa (10 by three-quarter time) the only in double figures and the lowest Breaker (Vukona) with four.
Derek Cooke Jr showed his wares with increased responsibility (12 minutes played), but with 10 minutes remaining the Breakers held a 62-55 lead.
The fourth term was Newbill time as the Philadelphia native nailed big shots to improve his side's win streak to seven.