Son of a gun CJ Bruton delivers again for Breakers
ANOTHER year, another championship, another defining contribution from CJ Bruton.
Big plays from Bruton in championship games are the rule rather than an exception, but his performance in the Breakers' 70-66 win in Perth on Friday night took on extra significance thanks to Bruton's mum and dad.
The veteran Australian held his nerve to drain two clutch free throws with nine seconds on the clock, belying a regular-season success rate of 71% from the stripe and sealing the Breakers' third straight championship.
The Wildcats had closed within two and were threatening to send the series back to Auckland before Bruton stepped up and atoned for a potentially game-winning miss in a similar situation in last year's grand final.
That failure in the final seconds in the same city, where Shawn Redhage's block sent the series to a third game, was an aberration.
It is much more familiar to watch Bruton drain four triples in a title-winning game, as he did in Friday's game-high 16-point haul. But those long-range efforts were nothing compared to his heroics from 4.5m.
Bruton revealed after the game that his motivation for making those two free throws was one to which most could relate - he didn't want to disappoint his mum.
"In game one, when I missed four free throws and I only made two, my mum called me and was chewing me out," Bruton said.
"I pretty much had the phone away from my ear. I wanted to make sure that I closed this out right. She was happy and we're all happy.
"My free-throw percentage hasn't been great this year but I really don't care about that - I only needed those two. Those two went in."
Both Bruton's mum and dad, Australian NBL great Cal Bruton, were in the building to watch their son earn a record-equalling sixth NBL title, an occasion which could not have come at a more fitting venue.
A young Bruton watched as his father, recruited as player-coach of the Wildcats in 1986, built a championship calibre team to kick-start Perth's incredible stretch of 27 straight post-season appearances.
CJ almost had a fairytale finish in the final game in Cal's old gym last year, but this season's success in the new Perth Arena more than made up for that disappointment.
"I wasn't too gutted (last season) because I had the last shot at the stadium where my dad helped the team become what they are," he said. "But I got a chance to make amends and I wasn't letting this one slip."
Breakers coach Andrej Lemanis says Bruton will always be "a very special person in my heart".
"He completely understands what it takes for teams to win," Lemanis said.
"He's the ultimate in being able to connect with his teammates. He can have a conversation with Reuben Te Rangi - the youngest guy on the team - and speak to him in a language that I'm not quite sure what's going on, and then he can have a conversation with Dillon (Boucher), the oldest guy on the team, and again they can communicate.
"I'm just blessed to have a player like CJ on our group."
Bruton, 37, will continue to lead the Breakers for another year, the final on his contract. "All I know is I enjoy the moment, I enjoy the camaraderie with the guys," Bruton said.
"It's just been special but this is all about the Breakers - this is not about Bruton."