THE conclusion to an entertaining and seesawing season is here, with the top two teams in the 2020 Sal’s National Basketball League (NBL) going head-to-head for the chance to claim this year’s title. What makes the decider even more intriguing is the fact that both competitors – the Otago Nuggets and Manawatu Jets – are yet to win a New Zealand (NZ) NBL title. The Jets came closest back in 1992 when they went down to Canterbury Rams in the grand final. With the Nuggets’ win over the Rams, Manawatu avoid lightning potentially striking twice, but have their own troubles overcoming a Nuggets team this season. Otago has won all four previous encounters, and in its first season for six years, already making an impact in the league.
OTAGO NUGGETS vs. MANAWATU JETS
There is no turning back for either side in a clash that has witnessed the two best teams of the season reach the decider in the Nuggets and Jets. The Nuggets have accounted for the Jets on all four prior occasions, and only once was the margin in single digits, with two wins 25 points or greater. The most recent clash was on Tuesday when Otago got up 105-80, though once the result was decided, both teams rested their key starters, and the Jets were also without Tom Vodanovich. In the other heavy loss, 130-94, the Jets were missing Hyrum Harris who is equally as key to their chances. So in the two matches at full strength, the Nuggets have still won, but by an average of eight points.
Manawatu Jets 24 | 33 | 16 | 27 (100)
Otago Nuggets 25 | 26 | 27 | 26 (104)
The match was neck-and-neck for the most part, and the Jets even raced out to a six-point lead at half-time. The Nuggets fired up in the third term to regain the lead, and held on in the final term to record a big win. Otago marginally won the rebound game (35-34) as well as the assists (20-18), but crucially had less turnover (10-16).
Jayden Bezzant top scored for the game in an ultimately fruitful effort with 30 points, five rebounds, five assists and four steals, as Vodanovich (28 points, 14 rebounds) and Harris (nine points, 11 rebounds and seven assists) had big games, as did Taane Samuel (20 points, four rebounds). Despite the quartet’s impressive numbers, just 13 of the team’s 100 points came outside them, whilst for the Nuggets, they shared the ball around.
Jarrod Kenny had what would be a season-high 28 points in the Nuggets’ return game, also picking up six assists, while Jordan Ngatai went on a tear with a double-double (19 points, 10 rebounds and five assists). Jordan Hunt (14 points, seven rebounds) and Josh Aitcheson (12 points, seven rebounds) were influential off the boards, while Kane Keil (12 points) also reached double-figure points.
Otago Nuggets 28 | 29 | 38 | 35 (130)
Manawatu Jets 26 | 30 | 23 | 15 (94)
After a tight first half with the Nuggets up by a point at the main break, Otago went berserk piling on 73 points in the biggest half to-date, completely dominating the Jets who could only manage the 38 points in that half. It meant the final margin blew out to 26 points as the Nuggets also tallied the highest score of the year. They shot at a remarkable 57.3 per cent from the field compared to the Jets’ 48.1 per cent, including 42.4 to 30.6 per cent from long-range. They almost had half the amount of turnovers (11-20), and more than double the steals (17-8), whilst winning the rebounding statistic (42-34) and assists (25-15) in a one-sided thumping.
Keil led the way with 29 points, six rebounds and four assists, not that far ahead of teammates, Ngatai (23 points, nine rebounds, four assists and four steals) and Hunt (22 points, two rebounds and three assists). Kenny had a handy 13 points and three rebounds to go with a game-high seven assists and four steals, while Aitcheson notched up 10 points, three rebounds, four assists and four steals in a strong effort.
In a dirty night for the Jets, Vodanovich (18 points, eight rebounds and two assists) and Bezzant (18 points, six rebounds and five assists) were the best, though Samuel (14 points, four rebounds and two assists) tried hard. New face, Nelson Kirksey picked up 11 points, five rebounds, three assists and three steals in defeat, while Ashton McQueen had 11 points and three rebounds.
Otago Nuggets 23 | 29 | 28 | 17 (97)
Manawatu Jets 26 | 22 | 16 | 21 (85)
After trailing by three points at quarter time, the Nuggets blasted away yet again to secure a 12-point victory over the Jets in the final round of the season. The 97-85 triumph earned the Nuggets top spot on the NZNBL table heading into the finals series, but realistically both teams knew they would face off again the next Tuesday. Once again the Nuggets dominated the assists (20-13), but only had one more rebounds, as the Jets made good on some second chance opportunities. Neither team’s shooting was anything to write home about, but the Nuggets marginally shaded the Jets from the field, 46.7 to 42.3 per cent.
Ngatai was the difference between the sides, putting in one of the greatest performances of the season on his way to 37 points, seven rebounds, five assists, two steals and two blocks. He was one of four Nuggets to reach double-figure points with Keil (16 points, six rebounds and five assists), Hunt (15 points, eight rebounds and two blocks) and Aitcheson (14 points, five rebounds and two assists) all busy. Kenny only had the seven points, bur amassed nine rebounds, seven assists and three steals in a real team game.
Vodanovich was the key scorer for the Jets, posting 28 points, six rebounds, two steals and one block, while Harris had 20 points, 12 rebounds, five assists and two blocks in the loss. Bezzant helped out with 13 points, five rebounds, two assists and two steals, while Samuel had the nine points and 11 rebounds in the loss.
Otago Nuggets 30 | 23 | 27 | 25 (105)
Manawatu Jets 19 | 16 | 17 | 28 (80)
In the latest one-sided contest, the Jets struggled from the get-go without Vodanovich on court as the newly-crowned MVP was missing for the qualifying final clash. The Nuggets bolted out of the gates and never looked back, piling on 80 points to 52 in the first three terms to end the contest and rest up for the semi-finals. Both teams knew they would make it through to the semis, and looked to manage their stars accordingly. The Nuggets smashed the Jets off the defensive boards (41-26), whilst also had their measure in assists (26-20) and again dominated the scoring accuracy with 53.2 per cent from the field to the Jets’ measly 38.1 per cent.
Hunt was the top scorer this time around, picking up 23 points as others were managed for minutes. Ngatai (11 points, nine rebounds and six assists) and Kenny (eight points, five rebounds and three assists) had an easy day at the office with plenty of rest, particularly for the last 15 minutes of the match. Instead, every Nuggets player scored at least four points on the night in a stunning team effort, as Jack Andrew came off the bench for 16 points and three rebounds. Keil (nine points, 12 rebounds), Darcy Knox (eight points, three rebounds) and Richie Rodger (eight points, three rebounds) also contributed.
Samuel recorded the most points coming off the bench with 17, as well as five rebounds and two assists. Kirksey (15 points, three rebounds, two assists and four steals) was busy, as was McQueen (13 points, five rebound, three assists and two steals) and Nick Fee (11 points, six rebounds, two assists and two steals).
THE STARTERS – HEAD-TO-HEAD STATS:
Jordan Ngatai (Nuggets) 22.5 points, 8.8 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 1.5 steals
Jarrod Kenny (Nuggets) 14.0 points, 4.5 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 2.5 steals
Kane Keil (Nuggets) 16.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, 16.1 assists
Jordan Hunt (Nuggets) 18.5 points, 4.8 rebounds, 1.0 assists
Josh Aitcheson (Nuggets) 10.3 points, 5.0 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.5 steals
Jayden Bezzant (Jets) 15.7 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.7 steals
Tom Vodanovich (Jets)** 24.7 points, 9.3 rebounds
Hyrum Harris (Jets)** 10.7 points, 9.7 rebounds, 5.3 assists
Taane Samuel (Jets) 15.0 points, 6.0 rebounds, 1.3 assists
Ashton McQueen (Jets) 6.5 points, 2.8 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 0.8 steals
** Only played three games
THE STARTERS – SEASON STATS:
Jordan Hunt (Nuggets) 19.5 points, 6.0 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 0.9 steals
Jordan Ngatai (Nuggets) 18.6 points, 5.7 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 1.5 steals
Jarrod Kenny (Nuggets) 11.5 points, 3.8 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 1.4 steals
Kane Keil (Nuggets) 11.5 points, 5.3 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.1 steals
Josh Aitcheson (Nuggets) 10.6 points, 4.7 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.4 steals
Tom Vodanovich (Jets) 22.3 points, 10.2 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 0.9 steals
Taane Samuel (Jets) 18.4 points, 5.9 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 0.6 steals
Jayden Bezzant (Jets) 17.9 points, 3.3 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.8 steals
Hyrum Harris (Jets)** 14.5 points, 11.5 rebounds, 6.6 assists, 2.7 steals
Ashton McQueen (Jets) 6.7 points, 2.6 rebounds, 1.3 assists. 0.7 steals
TEAM STATS: Otago Nuggets | Manawatu Jets
Points: 93.4 | 95.7
Rebounds: 48 | 57
Assists: 20.2 | 18.6
Steals: 9.3 | 8.2
Blocks: 2.8 | 2.5
FG%: 47.4 | 45.4
2P%: 56.8 | 56.1
3P%: 35.4 | 33.8
FT%: 69.7 | 68.4
Turnovers: 13.6 | 14.3
Personal Fouls: 16.9 | 19.4
WHAT DOES EACH TEAM NEED TO DO TO WIN?
The Nuggets need to do what they have done four times before because it has worked each time. They know it will not be easy with the Jets team at full strength pushing the top team on both those occasions. With an ability to share the points around both on the court and coming off the bench, the Nuggets can rely on anyone on their roster coming in and playing a role. Their shooting accuracy is terrific, particularly from inside the arc, whilst their assist game is the best in the competition.
The biggest strength of the Nuggets is that they do not really have a weakness in their game, and that the opposition has to play incredibly well to beat them because Otago does not just give up games. Their rebounding numbers might look low in comparison, but they do so well on the court to limit the opposition putting up shots, they play possession basketball and can dominate from the outset.
For the Jets, when at full strength, they can be a real danger. But unlike the Nuggets, they have had some unbelievable performances, and then they have had some games to forget. Their top four are high-volume shooters who can easily share between 20 points a game, whilst Kirksey has shown to be very capable coming off the bench – though could even get the start in this one. The issue with the Jets is that they struggle with points off the bench, and tend to fade out of games late with a lot of fouls – 19.4 per game is the worst in the league – which does not help.
You could make a case for having the best 1-2 combination in the league with Vodanovich and Harris, but if you are conceding points while they are having a breather, it is hard to play out four quarters of basketball. What the Jets really need is at about 15-20 points off their bench so it can keep the score ticking over while the starters are resting. Because the Nuggets are so deep, they are hard to matchup on for four quarters, so getting a strong start is crucial and then if the Nuggets start to get a roll on, the Jets cannot afford to let their frustrations show, and just try and stem the flow until they can grab the momentum back.
The clash looms as potentially the closest contest these teams have fought out, or at least something similar to their four-point thriller back in week one. If the Jets can get off to a good start and really apply scoreboard pressure, then there will be a game. But if the Nuggets can start strong, fans have come to know just how good finishers the Otago-based side is, and they have really slammed home the point in the second half. Neither of these teams have won a championship title, so no matter what happens, history will be made. Good luck to both teams and may it be a thriller.