Author: Peter Williams

2020 Sal’s NBL review: Canterbury Rams

CANTERBURY RAMS are next up in our team-by-team review series of the 2020 Sal’s National Basketball League (NBL) Showdown. The Rams finished on the bottom of the ladder at the end of the regular season but won through to a semi-final after upsetting both Nelson Giants and Auckland Huskies, before going down to eventual premiers, Otago Nuggets. We take a look at their season.

Played: 17
Won: 6
Lost: 11

KEY STATS:

Points: 86.4 (4th)
Rebounds: 44.4 (3rd)
Assists: 15.4 (6th)
Steals: 7.1 (6th)
Blocks: 2.9 (5th)
FG%: 44.8 (4th)

BEST WIN: defeated Auckland Huskies by 14 points

It was a remarkable win to the Rams in the elimination final, after really struggling in the first half with just 13 points in the second quarter, and trailed by double-figure points during the second term. A remarkable third quarter saw them run away with a 39-20 term to hit the front then hold on in the final term to win 98-84. Thomas Webley had a huge third term on his way to 21 points, seven rebounds and two assists. Taylor Britt came close to a triple-double with 16 points, seven rebounds, 10 assists and two steals, while Toby Gillooly (12 points, 12 rebounds and three assists) had a double-double. Reuben Te Rangi (13 points, eight rebounds and six assists), Sam Smith (16 points) and Quintin Bailey (14 points, five rebounds) were also prominent scorers in the win.

WORST LOSS: lost to Franklin Bulls by 25 points

Unfortunately the Rams had plenty of losses to pick from with 10 straight losses during the season. The biggest was that to Franklin Bulls, going down by 25 points where the Rams lost each of the four quarters. Alex Talma was a shining light with 25 points and seven rebounds, but Dom Kelman-Poto (22 points, seven rebounds and three assists) and Isaac Davidson (20 points, three rebounds, six assists and two steals) went to town and led their side to a memorable victory.

TOP PLAYERS:

Taylor Britt 19.5 points, 6.1 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 1.3 steals
Reuben Te Rangi 12.9 points, 3.6 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.4 steals
Sam Smith 11.9 points, 4.1 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 0.8 steals
Thomas Webley 11.3 points, 5.5 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 0.2 steals
Alex Talma 10.6 points, 8.0 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 1.0 steals

WHAT WENT RIGHT?

The Canterbury Rams came good at the pointy end of the season which counted and strung together three consecutive wins to reach the final four. It was a deserving finish for a team that had to overcome plenty of challenges along the way, particularly when it came to injuries. They had a number of standouts and young players who stepped up and gained valuable minutes.

WHAT WENT WRONG?

The 10-game losing streak and injuries galore. Unfortunately for the Rams, injuries to Jack Salt and Joe Cook-Green before the first tip-off had Canterbury on the back foot. Then Gillooly had an extended stint out and even Britt and Talma missed games. It truly was a tough season for the Rams, but led by Mick Downer, they did a remarkable job to reach the semis.

SUMMARY

Canterbury Rams started the season the same way they ended it: on fire with three wins. Unfortunately the injuries and 10 losses in between made it a game of catch-up for the side on the bottom of the table following 14 regular season games. They refused to let that stop them though, taking down the higher ranked Nelson Giants and Auckland Huskies to enjoy a remarkable run that was only cut short by a super side in eventual premiers, Otago Nuggets. Fully fit and with a good team chemistry, the Rams will be a team that could go all the way next year with very few changes likely to be needed.

2020 Sal’s NBL team review: Auckland Huskies

AUCKLAND HUSKIES are next up in our team-by-team review series of the 2020 Sal’s National Basketball League (NBL) Showdown. The Bulls finished a strong fourth on the ladder at the end of the regular season, then went down to a red-hot Thomas Webley-inspired Canterbury Rams in the elimination final. We take a look at their season.

Played: 15
Won: 8
Lost: 7

KEY STATS:

Points: 86.1 (5th)
Rebounds: 45.0 (2nd)
Assists: 17.0 (4th)
Steals: 9.3 (1st)
Blocks: 2.1 (3rd)
FG%: 40.5 (7th)

BEST WIN: defeated Nelson Giants by 29 points

Who could forget the first quarter of the Huskies during their impressive victory over the Nelson Giants. It was the only game where it was over by quarter time as Auckland piled on 45 points to 12, and from there did enough to secure the 96-67 victory. It was not just the total points that was impressive, but their first 17 shots dropped, going at 100 per cent to start the game in what was a remarkable effort from the Huskies. Tohi Smith-Milner dropped 20 points at 80 per cent, Leon Henry had 13 points at 71.4 per cent, as well as seven rebounds and four assists, whilst both Izayah Mauriohooho Le’Afa and Reuben Fitzgerald ran at greater than 60 per cent for double-figure points.

WORST LOSS: lost to Canterbury Rams by 14 points

The loss itself was not so bad, but more so the stakes on offer as Auckland went down to Canterbury by 14 points in the elimination final. The most frustrating aspect for the Huskies was the third term of the Rams, led by Webley, as the higher ranked side had been in firm control at each break, despite only being six ahead on the scoresheet. A 39-20 third quarter in favour of the Rams blew the game open and the Huskies went down 98-84. Webley finished with 21 points at 69.2 per cent, as well as seven rebounds. For the Huskies Mauriohooho Le’Afa went to town in a remarkable effort with 39 points, six rebounds, five assists and two steals, while Henry had 18 points, eight rebounds, four assists and six blocks.

TOP PLAYERS:

Izayah Mauriohooho Le’Afa 20.7 points, 4.5 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 2.5 steals
Taine Murray 17.5 points, 3.3 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 0.9 steals
Tohi Smith-Milner 15.5 points, 7.7 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 0.9 steals
Leon Henry 11.8 points, 10.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.6 steals
Jaylen Gerrand 6.8 points, 1.5 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 0.7 steals

WHAT WENT RIGHT?

The Auckland Huskies took a while to gel, but when they did, they looked might impressive. Taine Murray was superb and really lit it up showing the big future he had, while Mauriohooho Le’Afa’s all-round game and Henry’s defensive work was sensational. They had a good balance of talents across the board with great experience guiding the younger players along the journey, and if the team can stick together next season, they will be one to watch.

WHAT WENT WRONG?

The slower start to the season with inaccuracy being a real problem for the side early days. Once they honed in on their range, the Huskies were slick. Unfortunately just an inspired effort by Webley in the elimination final ended their season, but they can be proud of what they achieved and got to by the end of the regular NZNBL season.

SUMMARY

Auckland Huskies were the slowest out of the blocks in the early stages of the season, as a brand new side took a while to gel together having not had too much experience playing together before. They got back into it and not only became competitive, but were able to really knock off some quality teams along the way. It would have been nice to see them earn a semi-final place after their second half of the season performances, but it was not to be.

2020 Sal’s NBL team review: Franklin Bulls

FRANKLIN BULLS are next up in our team-by-team review series of the 2020 Sal’s National Basketball League (NBL) Showdown. The Bulls finished a healthy fifth on the ladder at the end of the regular season, then suffered a narrow loss to Taranaki Mountainairs in the elimination final. We take a look at their season.

Played: 15
Won: 7
Lost: 8

KEY STATS:

Points: 82.5 (7th)
Rebounds: 39.1 (7th)
Assists: 15.7 (5th)
Steals: 8.8 (3rd)
Blocks: 3.2 (5th)
FG%: 43.21 (6th)

BEST WIN: defeated Taranaki Mountainairs by 27 points

Having lost to them twice earlier in the season, the Bulls sought revenge perfectly with a big 92-65 victory over the Airs on July 23. Bursting out of the blocks in the opening half, the Bulls piled on 49 points to 27 to effectively end Taranaki’s hopes of finishing in the top two. Joe Reddish had a day out with 18 points, five rebounds and four steals, while Isaac Davidson (17 points, four rebounds), Everard Bartlett (16 points, six rebounds, five assists and three steals) and Sam Timmins (seven points, 12 rebounds, three assists and five steals) all had big days.

WORST LOSS: lost to Taranaki Mountainairs by nine points

It was hardly a disgrace as they matched them toe-for-toe throughout an epic four quarter elimination final, but it was shattering in the fact that it occurred just six days after they had toppled the Airs. It was compounded by the fact it would knocked them out of the title race despite the best efforts of Dom Kelman-Poto (31 points, 10 rebounds, four assists and three steals) and Davidson (24 points, three rebounds and two assists). Marcel Jones (31 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists and two blocks) and Derone Raukawa (28 points, seven rebounds, seven assists and three steals) dominated the play and got the Airs over the line.

TOP PLAYERS:

Dom Kelman-Poto 17.9 points, 7.6 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.5 steals
Isaac Davidson 16.1 points, 3.7 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.1 steals
Sam Timmins 10.9 points, 6.9 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.4 steals
Everard Bartlett 10.0 points, 2.3 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.3 steals
Nikau McCullough 6.9 points, 2.1 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 0.5 steals

WHAT WENT RIGHT?

The Franklin Bulls went on an early run, winning five of six games early in the season to announce themselves as genuine contenders. Davidson was in Most Valuable Player (MVP) territory with his long-range shooting and accuracy hurting opposition teams. With Kelman-Poto and Timmins working the boards, they were a dominant unit and realistically, far better than their eventual sixth placed finish. In an even competition, they showed that right place, right time can open doors, and sometimes you just fall short.

WHAT WENT WRONG?

Ultimately the Bulls were just beaten by a better team in the finals. They showed they could beat anyone on their day – they did so with five wins in six games and then collecting the last scalp of the Airs later in the season. Whilst they might have finished sixth by the end of the finals series, they can be proud of what they achieved in season 2020.

SUMMARY

Franklin Bulls were a genuine contender, and as a side that entered the league for the first time, it was great to see. They had some electric players who really excited, as well as some bigs who dominated off the boards. Hopefully the Bulls are able to keep their list together for 2021, as they have some good young talent from which they can build upon and really go places.

NBL Free Agency update: 36ers, Bullets and Taipans

IN the first of a three-part series this week, Draft Central looks at the Adelaide 36ers, Brisbane Bullets and Cairns Taipans Free Agency moves thus far ahead of the delayed 2020/21 National Basketball League (NBL) season.

ADELAIDE 36ERS:

Adelaide is certainly undergoing a change after a tough end to the season saw coach Conner Henry replacing the controversial Joey Wright. Immediately they picked up one of Australia’s brightest talents in Josh Giddey, who at 17-years-old will be a valuable guard for the side as he eyes of an NBA career in the future. In what could be one of the most potent four-five combinations, Daniel Johnson re-signed with the club, and Isaac Humphries came on board after languishing in the G-League. A former NBL Rookie of the Year with the Sydney Kings, Humphries was on the roster for Atlanta Hawks, took part in the NBA Summer League for the Los Angeles Clippers and then signed with the Orlando Magic, but after being waived opted to return back to Australia.

Humphries will replace the outgoing Harry Froling who has headed to Brisbane, with two-way player Anthony Drmic also headed north. The inclusion of former Illawarra Hawks’ guard Sunday Dech will help soften the blow of Drmic leaving while 25-year-old Keanu Pinder returns home after completing his college at Arizona and then spending a couple of seasons in Poland with Legia Warszawa. The 36ers were looking at including Tall Blacks talent Jack Salt, and returning shooting machine Jerome Randle, but unfortunately both suffered long-term injuries with Randle suffering an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury.

Contracted:

Jack McVeigh
Daniel Dillon
Alex Mudronja
Obi Kyei

Re-signed:

Daniel Johnson

Signed:

Josh Giddey (NBA Global Academy)
Isaac Humphries (Lakeland Magic G-League)
Sunday Dech (Illawarra Hawks)
Keanu Pinder (Legia Warszawa Poland)

 

BRISBANE BULLETS:

The Bullets had a breakout year in the 2019/20 and were always going to gamble on whether they could retain their bigs in Will Magnay and Lamar Patterson. Magnay re-signed, while Patterson is still a work in progress with the hope that he returns to Brisbane. They were quick to re-sign Jason Cadee, Nathan Sobey and Tyrell Harrison, with Matt Hodgson initially exploring his options then re-signing to negotiate a better deal than the COVID-19 pay cut, much like many of the NBL biggest and best talents. They also have only lost the two players thus far, with Cam Gliddon and Reuben Te Rangi both heading south for the summer.

Gliddon had an inconsistent year in 2019/20 and was viewed as better to have a clean run somewhere else, whilst Te Rangi has been keeping in form representing the Canterbury Rams in the second half of the New Zealand National Basketball League (NZNBL) season. While they both could be big talents on their day, the ins are certainly valuable ones and make Brisbane a genuine contender in 2020/21. Anthony Drmic and Harry Froling have jumped ship from the 36ers, whilst Tanner Krebs has returned after finishing his college years at St Mary’s. The 198cm shooting guard will replace Gliddon, whilst NBA Global Academy talent, Tamuri Wigness will slot into the other guard spot and no doubt have some court time next season. If they can re-sign Patterson, then watch out for how damaging this side could be.

Contracted:

Jason Cadee
Nathan Sobey
Tyrell Harrison
Matt Hodgson

Re-signed:

Will Magnay

Signed:

Anthony Drmic and Harry Froling (Adelaide 36ers)
Tanner Krebs (Saint Mary’s NCAA)
Tamuri Wigness (NBA Global Academy)

 

CAIRNS TAIPANS:

A major question mark still hangs over a number of Taipans players, with the club relatively quiet thus far over the Free Agency period. Re-signing Scott Machado and Nathan Jawai was important for he club, whilst a host of others opted to remain at the club in guards, Mirko Djeric and Fabijan Krslovic, and forwards, Majok Deng and Kouat Noi. All up they already have seven players on the list for next season when counting in Mojave King, an NBA Global Academy talent. The 195cm shooting guard is one who who no doubt learn off the likes of Machado who was one of the best players in the competition last season.

The question marks remain over un-signed Free Agents, Sam Froling, Cameron Oliver and DJ Newbill who all remain yet to to put pen to paper. Froling and in particular Oliver have other suitors, and the way they opt to go could determine how deep the Taipans go in season 2020/21. Newbill looks likely to re-sign, whilst a couple of Tall Blacks in Jarrod Kenny and Tai Wynyard are also among those left un-signed at this stage. Kenny had a strong season in the NZNBL, but has no officially signed anywhere in the NBL as of yet, the same as Wynyard who was one of the more impressive fives in the NZNBL.

Contracted:

Majok Deng
Mirko Djeric
Kouat Noi
Fabijan Krslovic

Re-signed:

Scott Machado
Nathan Jawai

Signed:

Mojave King (NBA Global Academy)

2020 Sal’s NBL team review: Nelson Giants

NELSON Giants are first up in our team-by-team review series of the 2020 Sal’s National Basketball League (NBL) Showdown. The Giants ended up the bottom placed team after a sixth placed regular season finish, going down to Canterbury Rams in the first elimination final. We take a look at their season.

Played: 15
Won: 5
Lost: 9

KEY STATS:

Points: 84.0 (6th)
Rebounds: 41.1 (5th)
Assists: 14.7 (7th)
Steals: 7.3 (5th)
Blocks: 2.3 (7th)
FG%: 44.2 (5th)

BEST WIN: defeated Manawatu Jets by 5 points

It might be easy to say the Giants’ best win came against eventual premiers, Otago Nuggets in the final week of the season, but realistically taking into account what the motives were in that game in terms of management ahead of Finals, the narrow victory over a full-strength Manawatu Jets side earlier in the season takes the cake. No Jets player scored more than 18 points, as Theo Johnson put on 20 points and three rebounds, while Mike Karena had 17 and six, and Nic Trathen had 11 and six.

WORST LOSS: lost to Auckland by 29 points

The game was over by quarter time after the Huskies shot a lights-out 17 from 17 to start the match, piling on more than 40 points in the best first term of the season. The Giants managed to match it with their opponents after that, but the gap was a bridge too far despite the best efforts of Karena (15 points, eight rebounds).

TOP PLAYERS:

Mike Karena – 17.5 points, 5.6 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 0.6 steals
Thomas Ingham – 14.9 points, 4.6 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 0.5 steals
Dane Brooks – 10.5 points, 6.0 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.3 steals
Nic Trathen – 10.3 points, 4.8 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.1 steals
Mika Vukona – 8.4 points, 5.6 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.4 steals

WHAT WENT RIGHT?

Nelson Giants always looked like a dangerous team at times given their big man out on court, Karena was the best center in the competition, and his ability to be able to go inside or outside, and shoot at a high 54.2 per cent clip from two-point range and 37.5 per cent from three-point range was always going to be hard to stop for opposition clubs.

WHAT WENT WRONG?

A slow start to the season caused by injuries to Karena, Dane Brooks and Mika Vukona, the latter of whom did not return until late in the season. If the Tall Blacks legend had played a full season, there is every chance the Giants might have finished higher on the ladder, with his experience crucial to the side.

SUMMARY

The Nelson Giants might have finished seventh overall post-finals, but given the losses of key players to injury, the team was always playing catch-up basketball. At their best, the Giants were clearly able to match it with the best sides, and it was more the fact they struggled to get their full side on the court often enough. There were enough signs there to suggest if they can retain their big guns for another season next year, the Giants could be more competitive when the whips are cracking, and more consistently as well.

2020 Sal’s NBL Grand Final preview: Otago Nuggets vs. Manawatu Jets

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.

 

PAST MATCHES:

Manawatu Jets 24 | 33 | 16 | 27 (100)
Otago Nuggets 25 | 26 | 27 | 26 (104)

[ … FULL MATCH STATS …]

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)

[ … FULL MATCH STATS … ]

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)

[ … FULL MATCH STATS … ]

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)

[ … FULL MATCH STATS … ]

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.

WHO WINS?

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.

Sal’s NBL Finals night preview: Nuggets v Rams and Jets v Airs

THREE teams down and four remain in the 2020 Sal’s National Basketball League (NBL) Finals Series after the first two nights of post-season action. Last placed Canterbury Rams survived a challenge from Nelson Giants on night one and came from behind to put away Auckland Huskies with an inspired third term last night. Taranaki Mountainairs were able to hold off Franklin Bulls in the other elimination final yesterday to make it through to the semis. Now the Rams take on top of the table Otago Nuggets, and the Airs face up against Manawatu Jets.

Otago Nuggets vs. Canterbury Rams

Not many people would have seen this as a matchup for the semi-finals, but the last placed Canterbury Rams have made it through to the penultimate round to take on the Otago Nuggets. The winner progresses through to the grand final and the loser bows out for 2020. Will the Nuggets live up to their top billing at the end of the home and away season? Or will the Rams’ fairytale run from last to the title continue?

PAST MATCHES:

Canterbury Rams 22 | 20 | 12 | 23 (77)
Otago Nuggets 28 | 28 | 9 | 22 (87)

[ … FULL MATCH STATS …]

Canterbury Rams 14 | 13 | 20 | 27 (74)
Otago Nuggets 13 | 14 | 26 | 22 (75)

[ … FULL MATCH STATS … ]

TOP PERFORMERS – HEAD-TO-HEAD:

Jordan Ngatai (Nuggets) 17.0 points, 5.0 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 2.5 steals
Kane Keil (Nuggets) 12.5 points, 4.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 2.0 steals
Josh Aitcheson (Nuggets) 10.5 points, 2.5 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.5 steals, 1.0 blocks
Jarrod Kenny (Nuggets) 7.0 points, 3.0 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 0.5 steals
Taylor Britt (Rams) 16.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.5 blocks
Sam Smith (Rams) 17.0 points, 5.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.0 steals
Thomas Webley (Rams) 13.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, 0.5 steals
Alex Talma (Rams) 12.5 points, 8.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.5 blocks

** Only played one game

TOP PERFORMERS – SEASON:

Jordan Ngatai (Nuggets) 18.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.5 steals
Taylor Britt (Rams) 20 points, 6.2 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 1.3 steals

WHAT DOES EACH TEAM NEED TO DO TO WIN?

The Nuggets must ensure the young Rams do not have a purple patch in which they can pile on the scores quickly. The last two nights Canterbury has dug deep after facing a deficit and piled on runs to hit the front and never lose it. The likes of Jordan Ngatai and Kane Keil need to be on their game, whilst the two most important people could be Jordan Hunt and Jarrod Kenny. The former needs to win the head-to-head over Thomas Webley after Webley’s match-winning performance last night, and he has the strength, but will need to avoid his opponent using his athleticism to get to the basket. Kenny won Defensive Player of the Year for a reason, and he needs to hassle his opponent whether it be Taylor Britt or Reuben Te Rangi and make sure they have an off night, whilst trying to hurt them the other way with some long-range bombs.

The last two night previews have been talking about the stars in Britt and Te Rangi, but boy did the Rams really come of age against the Huskies and look like genuine title contenders. Just as Auckland would guard one hot-handed scorer, another would pop up. Webley played his best game of the year when it counted, while Sam Smith took over Te Rangi’s scoring duties and keeping in mind the Rams built a lead in the third erm with Te Rangi and and Britt combining for just 11 points at one stage. Alex Talma also missed last night and could provide much height on the glass, but then again, do the Rams need him? As the Nuggets are a little smaller than the Huskies and more spread in their shooters. They have to limit Ngatai’s influence though as he is the star on court who can put on a one-man show.

WHO WINS?

What a clash this shapes up to be. Otago Nuggets have to be the pick given they finished first, but Canterbury Rams are running on a high right now and look like they could beat anyone on court. They have to perform at their best for longer to knock off the league’s best side this season, but anything is possible in this Finals Series.

Manawatu Jets vs. Taranaki Mountainairs

In a huge second semi-final, the Manawatu Jets are looking to bounce back from their qualifying final loss to the Nuggets with a win over Taranaki Mountainairs. The Airs knocked off Franklin Bulls last night and were effectively equal second with the Jets and Huskies despite finishing fourth. These two teams are the league’s highest scoring teams, and looking at their past two encounters, expect it to go a similar way, with the winner reaching triple-figures if not both sides.

PAST MATCHES:

Manawatu Jets 22 | 27 | 39 | 14 (102)
Taranaki Airs 23 | 28 | 23 | 19 (93)

[ … FULL MATCH STATS …]

Manawatu Jets 22 | 32 | 31 | 33 (118)
Taranaki Airs 25 | 23 | 32 | 23 (103)

[ … FULL MATCH STATS … ]

TOP PERFORMERS – HEAD-TO-HEAD:

Hyrum Harris (Jets)** 24 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists, 0 steals, 2 blocks
Taane Samuel (Jets) 23.0 points, 7.5 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 2.0 steals, 0.5 blocks
Jayden Bezzant (Jets) 18.0 points, 3.0 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 1.0 steals
Tom Vodanovich (Jets) 17.0 points, 9.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.5 steals
Derone Raukawa (Airs) 27.0 points, 4.5 rebounds, 9.0 assists, 1.5 steals
Marcel Jones (Airs) 20.0 points, 12.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 0.5 steals, 1.0 blocks
Shane Temara (Airs) 17.0 points, 9.5 rebounds, 1.5 assists

** Only played one game

TOP PERFORMERS – SEASON:

Tom Vodanovich (Jets) 21.9 points, 10.4 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 0.9 steals
Derone Raukawa (Airs) 23.1 points, 3.4 rebounds, 7.5 assists, 1.4 steals

WHAT DOES EACH TEAM NEED TO DO TO WIN?

The Jets will be keen to see the return of Tom Vodanovich for this clash after missing the Otago Nuggets loss. Despite being this season’s MVP and a notorious high scorer, Vodanovich has not been able to punish the Airs the same way he has other sides, scoring 17 points in both matches and only having a real impact off the boards in the first encounter with 14 rebounds. The load has been shared around and realistically they need to continue to do that because unpredictability is the best key to victory. Hyrum Harris is a terrific facilitator, but he might need to score more if Vodanovich is still sore or having a down game, while Taane Samuel could be the wildcard in the pack, being the best performing player for Manawatu across the two games. They need to match Marcel Jones off the boards and try and limit Derone Raukawa as much as possible.

The Airs might have gone down in the past two encounters, but would fancy themselves here if they can get off the chain. They have a lot of underrated players, and bench players who can come off and have spurts of impact, whereas the Jets have such a strong starting five that they can get the majority of their points from them. Raukawa and Jones are hard to stop, but it will need to be the next group such as Shane Temara – who is almost averaging a double-double against the Jets – as well as Ken Tuffin, Mitch Dance and Francis Mulvihill who really need stand up and provide support to the All-Star duo. It will also be important to try and read Harris and his passes to limit the scoring power of the Jets’ bigs, particularly Vodanovich.

WHO WINS?

The two highest scoring sides are set to put on a real show. Both sides have elite talents who can shoot or share the ball around, with strong rebounding and assist numbers across the board. They are both also more than capable defensively with some huge steal numbers, but the Jets will start as favourites in this one. With two wins from two games thus far, Manawatu need to keep doing what they have done in the past, but you cannot discount the Airs who at their best are a quality lineup.

Webley leads third term Ram-raid to tame Huskies

AN inspired third term by the 2020 Sal’s National Basketball League (NBL) Showdown last placed side, Canterbury Rams has continued the unthinkable dream with a come-from-behind 98-84 triumph over Auckland Huskies last night. Led by Thomas Webley who set the tone in the third term after his side had a slow start, the big man turned it on with unbelievable athleticism to drag his team back from the brink and over the line despite a remarkable 39-point effort from Izayah Mauriohooho-Le’Afa.

AUCKLAND HUSKIES 26 | 16 | 20 | 22 (84)
CANTERBURY RAMS 23 | 13 | 39 | 23 (98)

[ … FULL MATCH STATS … ]

The first term belonged to the two talented Tall Blacks guards with Mauriohooho-Le’Afa and Reuben Te Rangi going head-to-head on the respective scoring fronts. The Auckland Huskies guard set up Tohi Smith-Milner with the opening basket of the game with a pass through traffic, and soon the size of Aaron Bailey-Nowell on offence added a couple more. Te Rangi would sink the first three-pointer of the game after being left wide open courtesy of a screen, but Bailey-Nowell immediately responded with a couple more points. Huskies had a number of chances but were missing them early, though that began to change when Mauriohooho-Le’Afa got cooking.

Te Rangi was still causing all sorts of issues for the Rams defence, piling on seven points, all of the Rams score in the first half of the term to get his side within four, and then assisted Quintin Bailey for a two-point deficit. But as would be the case, all the Rams scoring would come as a struggle, whilst the Huskies began draining treys like there was no tomorrow – which technically was correct for the losing side. Whilst Mauriohooho-Le’Afa was getting going, it was Leon Henry with a couple of triples and then a massive three first-quarter blocks that was intimidating the young Rams defence. At quarter time, the Huskies led by three after Taylor Britt’s first basket of the game with 40 seconds left got his side back into it.

Webley was having a promising game, and started well with three points and four rebounds, something he would build on in the second term. Despite the lead, Huskies coach Kevin Braswell was not happy with the defence on Te Rangi imploring his guards to double-team the Tall Black. They managed that better in the second term as he would not add to his seven first quarter scores, also gaining a bit of a breather as Sam Smith came on and piled on the baskets to be the most influential Ram with Webley in the second term.

But it was truly the Mauriohooho-Le’Afa show in the second quarter as he drained triple after triple to race to 20 half-time points courtesy of a 13-point second term. Between his offence and Henry’s defence, the inexperienced Rams were struggling to score. At one point, the Huskies guard was outscoring the Rams as Canterbury was two from 10 from three-point range, whilst the Huskies were draining a third of their chances.

The match was summed up by a fourth Henry block with four and a half in the term, followed by a Mauriohooho-Le’Afa trey putting the Huskies out to 12-point lead. With just 29 points to the midpoint of the term, the usually calm Mick Downer told his chargers that it was “the most selfish individual display I’ve seen from us this whole campaign and this is why we have 29 points.” The Rams managed to respond from that to cut back to six points as Smith drained a couple of layups. With 46 seconds remaining, Henry bowled over Ben Carlile-Smith and won the free throws, showing confidence with a stare down over his opponent on the ground. The half-time buzzer sounded with the Huskies up by six, 42-36.

It is unsure what went on at half-time, but whatever it was, it turned the Rams offence on. Whilst the Huskies defence was worried about Te Rangi and Britt, it was Webley who came to play, draining the first six points of the term and went on to finish the term with double-figure points as the big man was dropping floaters and slamming athletic dunks. He not only dragged his team back into it, but he lead the Rams to up to a lead themselves with a 16-4 run early in the term.

Mauriohooho-Le’Afa continued his form though with four points, but he was up against a team offence that had finally clicked. If it was not Webley, then it was Bailey or Toby Gillooly who were making the Huskies hurt. The biggest issue was the Huskies’ big men were getting into four trouble with Henry (three) and both Smith-Milner and Bailey-Nowell (four each) all close to being fouled out. Henry was still being aggressive on the offensive effort to try and help Mauriohooho Le’afa out, but everything the Rams touched turned to gold. Britt dropped a couple of treys off rare Henry fumbles out of bounds and the lead went out to 11 at one point.

Everything was going wrong for the Huskies as they were desperately trying to get some baskets, but a rushed pass from Smith-Milner was intercepted by Britt who went to the basket and was fouled to put the lead out to 13 by the final term. No one could quite understand what had occurred in the third quarter following a massive 39-20 term. What was even more remarkable was the fact that Te Rangi had not scored since the first term, and Britt only had 12 points – most of which came late in the term. For the Huskies, Mauriohooho-Lea’Afa and Henry combined for 46 points and 14 rebounds but needed more support.

The Huskies had 10 minutes to try and stay in the Sal’s NBL Finals Series, but it was not going to happen with a triple from Jack Exeter to push the lead out to 14 in the first 90 seconds. Henry responded with a last second trey before the shot clock expired. The Rams were still being aggressive on offence and throwing everything at the Rams in the last term. Henry was being incredible both inside and outside, and when Mauriohooho-Lea’Afa dropped another basket, his side was back within nine.

Six minutes in the Rams called a timeout with the 11-point lead and Downer implored his players to keep up the aggression on offence without going too far. The Huskies kept trying for long-range attempts, but the treys were now not dropping. Instead, Te Rangi was fouled shooting for a triple of his own and had three free throws, making two of them for a 12-point lead with five minutes remaining. The work by Canterbury’s defence to double-team Henry on the way to the hoop forced a miss, and Te Rangi almost ended the game with a triple but it rolled in and out.

With 3:47 remaining, Bailey-Nowell was fouled out for an offensive foul and a 11-point deficit. Henry continued his unbelievable work on defence and it led to a Huskies basket up the other end with Anamata Hatu scoring his first points coming on for Bailey-Nowell. Reuben Fitzgerald was using his speed to get to the basket but split both free throw opportunities in the final term with eight points the difference. When Smith-Milner was offensively fouled by Te Rangi with 2.31 on the clock, the Huskies had possession again and Mauriohooho-Lea’Afa was fouled on the way to the hoop and made no mistake with his free throws to go up to a massive 39 points and getting his team within six points.

Unfortunately for the Huskies that was as close as it got with Te Rangi draining an important basket, Britt doubling up with two nice jumpers and with just over a minute remaining the Rams held a 12-point lead. The Rams managed to wind down the clock and when Smith sank a trey with 30 seconds remaining, he iced the game to guarantee the Rams a most magnificent victory, 98-84.

Webley finished with 21 points, seven rebounds and two assists, shooting at 69 per cent from the field, while Britt (16 points, seven rebounds and 10 assists) ended up having a prominent night after a slow start. Te Rangi quietened down after his ripping first term but finished with 13 points, and still contributed with eight rebounds and six assists, while Gillooly picked up the only double-double of the game with 12 points and 12 rebounds to his name. Smith (16 points, two rebounds and two assists) and Bailey (14 points, five rebounds) were the other double-figure Rams. For the Huskies it was a two-man show with Mauriohooho-Le’Afa dominating everywhere with 39 points, six rebounds, five assists and two steals, while Henry threw himself desperately at every ball to end with 18 points, eight rebounds, four assists and six blocks. Smith-Milner was the other Huskies player to pick up double-digit points with 16 but outside of the trio, the remainder of the team contributed just 11 points.

Whilst the Huskies exit the competition after some terrific basketball this season, the Rams advance to take on the top of the table Otago Nuggets tomorrow night, having to recover for the second straight night. While it is unheard of to think the last placed side could take out the title, the Rams so far have shown anything is possible.

Sal’s NBL Finals night preview: Huskies v Rams and Airs v Bulls

ONE team is out and six remain in the 2020 Sal’s National Basketball League (NBL) title race following the first night of finals action. Canterbury Rams won the first of four games they will need to win if they are to hold the title this year, defeating Nelson Giants and now moving on to face Auckland Huskies in another elimination final. Rounding out the elimination finals is a fourth against fifth clash between Taranaki Mountainairs and Franklin Bulls. Both sides have been ladder leaders at different stages through the season, but only one can advance to the semi-finals.

The semi-finals take place tomorrow night, with Otago Nuggets playing the lowest placing loser – which could be any of the three sides other than Auckland Huskies – while the Manawatu Jets could meet anyone bar Canterbury on the penultimate finals stage.

Auckland Huskies vs. Canterbury Rams

In the opening match of the night, the fourth placed Auckland Huskies take on the last placed Canterbury Rams who got through the first hurdle by overcoming the Nelson Giants last night. This clash will be substantially harder, but they have beaten them once, albeit in the opening week of the season.

PAST MATCHES:

Canterbury Rams 29 | 17 | 24 | 32 (102)
Auckland Huskies 12 | 20 | 16 | 22 (70)

[ … FULL MATCH STATS …]

Auckland Huskies 18 | 30 | 28 | 12 (88)
Canterbury Rams 24 | 12 | 18 | 27 (81)

[ … FULL MATCH STATS … ]

TOP PERFORMERS – HEAD-TO-HEAD:

Izayah Mauriohooho-Le’Afa (Huskies)** 19 points, 2 rebounds, 3 assists, 8 steals
Leon Henry (Huskies) 9.5 points, 10.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 2.5 steals, 0.5 blocks
Tohi Smith-Milner (Huskies) 10.0 points, 5.5 rebounds, 0.5 assists, 1.0 steals, 1.0 blocks
Toby Gillooly (Rams)** 25 points, 6 rebounds, 0 assists, 1 steal, 2 blocks
Taylor Britt (Rams) 21.5 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 0.0 steals, 0.0 blocks
Thomas Webley (Rams) 11.0 points, 6.5 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.5 blocks

** Only played one game

TOP PERFORMERS – SEASON:

Izayah Mauriohooho-Le’Afa (Huskies) 19.2 points, 4.3 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 2.7 steals
Taylor Britt (Rams) 20.3 points, 6.1 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.2 steals

WHAT DOES EACH TEAM NEED TO DO TO WIN?

The Huskies have really found their form in the second half of the season and have a really well balanced team. With Leon Henry guiding the younger players with his rebounding prowess, Taine Murray on a tear when he is red hot, and Izayah Mauriohooho-Le’Afa having a Defensive Player of the Year award type-season, they are a hard team to beat. That is before you get to the likes of Tohi Smith-Milner among a host of others off the bench who can contribute on the scoring front.

The Rams rely a lot on Taylor Britt to score, but can have cameos from others such as Toby Gillooly and more recently, Reuben Te Rangi. They have the strength off the boards with Alex Talma and Thomas Webley working hard on the inside, but will have their work cut out with Henry and Smith-Milner crashing the boards. It will need to be a clinical performance from the Rams to get up with the Huskies so strong defensively, you cannot afford to have too many loose balls.

WHO WINS?

Auckland Huskies were not too far off the top two, and deserve to head in as favourites here. While they lost to the Rams in their opening game of the season, they are in much better form of late, even with the Rams picking up back-to-back wins in the past few days. If the Huskies can play to their potential, they just have too much depth to rely on, while the Rams have some serious A-grade talent, but injuries have hurt them this season otherwise they would have finished higher up the ladder.

Taranaki Mountainairs vs. Franklin Bulls

The second match of the night has a huge clash between two genuine title contenders that neither the Nuggets nor Jets would particularly look forward to playing. The Airs have won both their previous encounters against the Bulls, but finals is a different ball game and this shapes up to be a beauty.

PAST MATCHES:

Franklin Bulls 31 | 21 | 18 | 25 (95)
Taranaki Airs 25 | 30 | 27 | 25 (107)

[ … FULL MATCH STATS …]

Franklin Bulls 17 | 12 | 31 | 28 (88)
Taranaki Airs 31 | 25 | 24 | 22 (102)

[ … FULL MATCH STATS … ]

TOP PERFORMERS – HEAD-TO-HEAD:

Marcel Jones (Airs) 29.0 points, 11.5 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.0 blocks
Derone Raukawa (Airs) 19.5 points, 3.0 rebounds, 8.0 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.0 blocks
Ken Tuffin (Airs) 10.0 points, 6.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.0 blocks
Isaac Davidson (Bulls) 22.0 points, 6.5 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.0 blocks
Nikau McCullough (Bulls) 11.0 points, 2.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.5 blocks
Dom Kelman-Poto (Bulls) 14.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.5 blocks

** Only played one game

TOP PERFORMERS – SEASON:

Derone Raukawa (Airs) 22.8 points, 3.1 rebounds, 7.6 assists, 1.3 steals
Dom Kelman-Poto (Bulls) 16.9 points, 7.4 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.4 steals

WHAT DOES EACH TEAM NEED TO DO TO WIN?

The Airs have had the edge over the Bulls in their opening two encounters thanks to the 12 and 14-point wins. Given they are relatively comfortable victories, they would head into this game with confidence, particularly given not only their All-Star duo in Marcel Jones and Derone Raukawa‘s form against the Bulls, but also Ken Tuffin‘s 10-point and six-rebounds average against Franklin. They need to keep doing what they’ve been during the season, but need to put in a four quarter effort to ensure they remain alive in the competition.

The Bulls have one of the most even spread of sides in the competition. At one point they won five out of six games and looked like they were going to storm away with the minor premiership before slipping back to the pack in the second half of the season. If the Bulls can limit the influence of Jones and Raukawa then that will go a long way to winning. Obviously that is easier said than done, but perhaps the roles for Everard Bartlett and Nick Barrow could be huge, with Isaac Davidson and Nikau McCullouch trying to pile on the points, while Dom Kelman-Poto provides the inside presence.

WHO WINS?

With two wins in the bank against their opposition, the Airs will be favourites heading into this. Given they have 40 per cent of the All-Star team in their possession, they are genuinely a top four side ready to advance. The Bulls have such an even squad across the board, it is difficult to try and lockdown on one player, but Davidson might be that player whose hot hand early in the season led the Bulls to a number of victories.

Nuggets justify top seed with big win over MVP-less Jets

OTAGO Nuggets have justified their top seeding from the 2020 Sal’s National Basketball League (NBL) regular season with a vital 25-point qualifying final win over a Manawatu Jets side missing the league’s best player this season. Otago went in full strength for the top of the table clash, and came out with its fourth win in as many attempts, dominating the opening three terms to rest up in the final term ahead of the semi-final. With Sal’s NBL Most Valuable Player (MVP) Tom Vodanovich a late out of the contest, life was always going to be difficult for the Jets, who struggled to have the same scoring output without their number one big man, going down 105-80.

OTAGO NUGGETS 30 | 23 | 27 | 25 (105)
MANAWATU JETS 19 | 16 | 17 | 28 (80)

[ … FULL MATCH STATS … ]

Once word that Vodanovich would miss out got out, the Nuggets went from favourites to raging favourites, but they still needed to get it done on the court. Knowing that the top ranked side in the semi-finals would play the lowest ranked remaining team, posting a win in the qualifying final became important. With all their big guns in the line-up, the Nuggets hoped to get off to a strong start, and that they did.

Jordan Ngatai and Jordan Hunt had a couple of baskets on the board in the opening minute, as a couple of missed shots and then a turnover by the Jets already had them on the back foot. Ashton McQueen quickly came to the party with five points of his own off Hyrum Harris assists for the Jets to regain the lead, only for Josh Aitcheson to take it straight back. The teams traded blows in those opening few minutes, before the Jets started to make some mistakes through turnovers and fouls.

Otago took full control of the moment, piling on nine straight points to lead 16-7 with less than five minutes to play. Taane Samuel finally broke the drought for the Jets with a couple of free throws, but a layup from Akiva McBirney Griffin followed by a Richie Rodger triple – off a Jets turnover – extended the lead out to a game-high 12 points. McQueen and Samuel seemed to be the biggest resistance from the Jets, as they and Jayden Bezzant got the second placed side back within eight points. Six consecutive points to the Nuggets – four from Kane Keil and two from Jarrod Kenny – blew the lead out to 14 with 37 seconds to play, but a late Nelson Kirksey trey helped draw his side within 11 at the first break.

The second term did not give Jets fans much more hope as the Nuggets piled on the first five points of the quarter to build a handy 16-point lead and each time the Jets trained a shot, the Nuggets responded, both from the inside and outside. The top two teams have not been afraid to register points from beyond the arc, and that was on show again, while Harris was producing some nice dimes throughout the first half to keep his team alive. Then the facilitator got his first points with an important triple with four and a half minutes left on the clock, countering that of Darcy Knox moments earlier, but the Jets were still 14 points in deficit.

Following a Nicholas Fee three-point jumper with 3:43 left on the clock, the Jets trailed 35-46 and needed a spark. Instead, this was where the game was won, as the Nuggets piled on the last seven points of the quarter to blow the half-time margin out to 18, with a Kenny layup in the last few seconds exemplifying why the top side was in firm control of the contest with a 53-35 advantage at the main break.

The Nuggets showed no signs of slowing down in the third as they pushed the lead to beyond 20 thanks to baskets from Kenny, Hunt and Ngatai, and answering each of the Jets’ makes with one of their own. Manawatu was rattle and it showed when Kalib Marsich-Mullins fouled Keil from outside the arc midway through the term and then the long-range shooter drained all three free throws for his team to hold a 24-point lead.

Each time the Jets would score, the Nuggets would answer, as Jack Andrew came off the bench to string a couple of baskets together including an impressive dunk, as Samuel was trying all he could to get his side going. By this time, the Nuggets trio of Hunt, Kenny and Ngatai would rest up with Coach of the Year Brent Matehaere confident his chargers would finish the job off in the last 15 minutes.

Six straight points to the Nuggets leading into the final minute of the quarter had a game-high lead of 27 points, something that went out 28 not long after with Kirksey’s layup matched by Rodger’s long-range bomb just two seconds remaining in the term. The final break had the Jets leading 80-52 and in complete control with the game’s largest margin.

The game was done and dusted by then, with the Jets making the decision to sit both Harris and Samuels out of the contest for the entire quarter in readiness for Thursday night’s semi-finals. To the losing side’s credit, they managed to chew back some of the deficit as the bench players came to the party, though it was always going to be a case of too little, too late, with the Nuggets rotations holding off Manawatu enough to record an impressive 105-80 victory to advance through as the top ranked team in the semi-finals.

The Nuggets were more deadly from the field, with less attempts, but more makes, shooting at 53 per cent efficiency compared to the Jets’ 38, including a 66 to 52 per cent differential from inside the arc. Whilst the Jets had more steals (11-6), the Nuggets recorded the only four blocks of the game, as well as dominating the rebounds (52-39) and winning the assists battle (26-60). Both teams had 15 turnovers in what was a fairly solid performance, but the class of the Nuggets and the loss of Vodanovich proved key in the end.

Hunt top scored in the match with a remarkable 23 points off less than 18 minutes, including 10 of 14 from the floor. Keil stepped up with the most minutes of any player – 27 – just missing out on a double-double with nine points and 12 rebounds. With just 20 minutes, Ngatai still recorded 11 points, nine rebounds and six assists, which equates to a triple-double if you factor in 40-minute averages, while Kenny spent more time on the bench than on the court, for eight points, five rebounds, three assists and two steals. Andrew off the bench amassed 16 points and three rebounds in a really handy performance.

The Jets had four players who recorded double-digit points, led by Samuel off the bench with 17 points, five rebounds and two assists, while Kirksey (15 points, three rebounds, two assists and four steals) and McQueen (13 points, five rebounds, three assists and two steals) also tried hard. Harris only played the 18 minutes in readiness for the semi-finals, but had six rebounds, four assists and two steals to go with his one trey, while Fee finished with a solid 11 points, six rebounds, two assists and two steals.

The next matches for both sides are uncertain at this stage, with the elimination finals tonight to determine the winners. If favourites win, then the Nuggets will look to take on Taranaki Mountainairs, while the Manawatu Jets face Auckland Huskies, though nothing can be certain with both Franklin Bulls and Canterbury Rams both in contention.