Illawarra Hawks beat New Zealand Breakers to stay in finals race

The Illawarra Hawks kept in touch with the NBL front-runners with Saturday night's convincing 90-79 defeat of the New Zealand Breakers.

After blowing an 18-point lead in last week's heartbreaking loss to Melbourne United, the fifth-placed Hawks bounced back with a defiant performance to claim their ninth win of the season.

American forward Demitrius Conger (17 points, 10 rebounds) and Australian Boomers rep Nick Kay (18 and nine) starred for Illawarra, while Rotnei Clarke added 12.

Illawarra's triumph overshadowed the sparkling debut of new Breakers import Rakeem Christmas, who tallied 14 points and eight rebounds in his first NBL game.

The Hawks built an early five-point lead in the first period before Christmas briefly turned the game in New Zealand's favour with an impressive debut off the bench.

He tallied eight points, three rebounds, a steal and a block in five minutes, as the Breakers pulled ahead 21-18 at quarter-time.

Illawarra opened the second period with eight unanswered points, but the Breakers didn't flinch and the lead changed hands several times as half-time approached.

Kay paced the Hawks with 11 points and they held a slender 46-44 lead at half-time.

Christmas and Breakers guard Edgar Sosa had 10 each, but the visitors hurt themselves with a whopping 11 turnovers.

NBL MVP contender Conger raised the bar with a flurry of points in the third period to put the Hawks up by seven.

The Breakers didn't blink, closing the gap to 60-58 at three-quarter time.

But they couldn't match Illawarra's desperation down the stretch and dropped to 12-7 in the win-loss column.

It was the Breakers' sixth loss in their past eight games.

New Zealand are at home against Melbourne on Thursday and the Hawks play Adelaide away on Friday.