Superstar duo Xavier Cooks and Derrick Walton Jr have suffered match-ending leg injuries as the New Zealand Breakers drew first blood in the best-of-five NBL Championship series with a 95-87 win in Game 1 against the Sydney Kings.
New Zealand's backcourt duo Will McDowell-White (19 points, nine rebounds, nine assists) and Barry Brown Jr (19 points off the bench) took turns in silencing the 13,145-strong crowd at Qudos Bank Arena on Friday night.
Meanwhile, Jarrell Brantley (16 points, seven boards) had the better of the marquee power forward match-up with league MVP Cooks (eight points at 20%).
Cooks' night ended in the closing minutes when he limped off the court, a few minutes after Walton hobbled to the bench with cramp in his right leg midway through the fourth term.
Justin Simon (18 points) led the charge for the banged-up Kings, who were forced to play catch-up for much of the evening.
"We're competing every possession, we give it everything we've got," Breakers coach Mody Maor said.
"Controlling the pace is very important when we play against Sydney.
"I felt we were solid but still feel we can be a lot better."
The reigning champions predictably attacked the rim hard early but a wayward 4-of-9 conversion rate from the foul line put them on the back foot.
The Breakers' bench - led by the league's best sixth man Brown - outscored Sydney's 15-2 as the visitors took a 30-23 quarter-time lead when Cooks' errant pass finished with McDowell-White's alley-oop to Dererk Pardon.
McDowell-White's expert penetration and facilitation continued to hurt the hosts who were outplayed in the second stanza.
The margin swelled to 14 points before Sydney's league-best offence finally started to click against the Breakers' competition-best defence.
Simon was pivotal as the Kings reduced the margin to 76-70 at three-quarter time but an unsportsmanlike foul against Dejan Vasiljevic to start the fourth handed the momentum back to the Kiwis.
Brown ran with it, pouring in 13 fourth-quarter points against a progressively depleted Kings outfit down the stretch.
"Credit to NZ in the first half, they made a bunch of shots which kept us at a distance," Kings coach Chase Buford said.
"Every time we threatened a run in the second half, they had an answer for us."
The series moves to Auckland for Game 2 on Sunday.