FANS who tuned in to see the Taranaki Mountain Airs take on the Nelson Giants witnessed a treat, as for the first time this season an NZNBL game would need overtime to separate two teams at the end of regulation, with the Airs squeezing out a hard fought victory against a wiley Giants outfit, 95-88, and moving back to the top of the league standings in the process of doing so.
TARANAKI MOUNTAINAIRS 27 | 30 | 6 | 12 | 20 (95)
NELSON GIANTS 19 | 17 | 20 | 19 | 13 (88)
Heading into Thursday’s opening contest, the Airs were in marvellous form as Derone Raukawa was leading the League in assists and forward Marcel Jones was at the top of list in rebounds prior to their clash with Nelson. Furthermore, there was much anticipation between the matchup of Taranaki’s Tai Wynyard and Nelson’s Michael Karena, as both of these Centers looked to dominated around their respective baskets and gain an upper hand on one another.
With both sides trading baskets early, the two sides would be attached at the hip early on with eight points apiece, as neither side could gain a dominant grasp on the game within the opening minutes.
Following a successful three-point play and an easy layup via Zachary Easthope, the Airs could start to gain some traction in Thursday’s matinee, but Dane Brooks would answer back strong with five consecutive points of his own. This, on the way to 11 of his side’s 16 initial points of the game.
With numerous scoring runs headlining the opening quarter of play, Taranaki would have the last laugh, closing out the first ten minutes of play with an 8-0 scoring run, to lead 27-19 at the end of one, as Raukawa and Easthope’s seven points each led an 11 of 22 (50 per cent) shooting effort to kick off the contest.
A Jones spinning jumpshot and a Mitchell Dance hook shot extended the lead for the Airs to 12 continuing their scoring run to 12-0, which essentially set the tone for the rest of the first half.
As Taranaki hoisted a 14-5 run to commence second quarter proceedings, Nelson had their work cut out for them heading into the main break, as their struggle to find answers continued.
Despite the Giants leading in the three-point shooting category making five first-half triples from deep, the Airs were slaying the matchup from two-point range, converting 20 of their 31 field goal attempts (64 per cent).
Individually, Raukawa had another superior first half leading his side in points and assists (12 and four respective), whereas Jones was providing valuable contributions in most facets of the game and especially on the board, adding nine points, nine rebounds and three dimes to his side’s box score.
On the flip side, Brooks maintained his good play into the second quarter, concluding his opening two quarters with 11 points, four rebounds and three steals, as he had to figure out how to motivate his team to overcome a 21-point deficit in the latter half of the game, as the Giants trailed 57-36.
More of the same opened up the second half, as a mid-range jumper from Jones signalled a similar half to their first for Taranaki. However, a 14-0 run for the Giants pulled the deficit back to 11 points eight minutes into the third period following Zeb Lovell’s free-throws.
Jones’s hook shot halted the Airs’ run the next play, but Nelson just kept punching at the deficit, closing out a massive third quarter and outscoring Taranaki 20-6 in the ten-minute stretch of time, with the score at just 63-56 and the Giants forcing 16 turnovers to this point from the other team.
A flashy euro-step layup from Brooks was just what the doctor ordered to start off the last ten minutes for the Giants, trimming the Airs lead to a mere five points with Taranaki’s frustrations appearing to boil over.
Tysxun Aiolupotea’s back-to-back baskets brought the contest to just a single possession ballgame, helping Nelson to get in a position to knocking on Taranaki’s door halfway through the fourth. Succeeding this, both sides continued to trade successful plays, as Nelson struggled to complete their comeback, getting as close as a single point.
In the twilight moments of the game, Nelson made their final charge off the back of a Brooks three-point play with less than two minutes remaining, trailing by two points. With 30 seconds left, an Aiolupotea floater would send the game into overtime at 75-75, the first for the competition this season and completing the Giants’ run, which started late in the first half when they trailed by as much as 25.
To kick off the five minutes of post-regulation, Jones’s post-hook put the Airs on the right track which was further compounded by the fouling out of Thomas Ingham. Scoring the opening six points of overtime, Taranaki snuffed out the remainder of Nelson’s spirit following another Jones layup to cap off an 8-0 run.
The Giants rolled the dice one last time with a 6-0 run, before Raukawa’s eight made overtime free-throws would cement Taranaki’s second win in a row, taking out the result 95-88 and joining the Franklin Bulls at the top of the table with records of five wins and three losses.
In what was an honourable contest on the side of the Giants, their poor first half proved the obvious factor in their loss, trailing by 25 points at one stage. But highlighting a positive, a 39-18 second half from Nelson was a task many punters would have deemed impossible, as they almost conquered an almost insurmountable mission. Nevertheless, important late-game free-throw shooting by Taranaki was the major factor in holding off a rampaging Giants outfit, as they collected their fifth win of the season.
Nelson’s most notable contributor was obviously Brooks, following his 23 point, eight rebounds and six assists game, shooting at an elite 75 per cent efficiency (9-12) from the floor including three steals. Other contributors included Ingham (18 points and four rebounds) and Lovell (11 points and 12 rebounds), who racked up a hard-earned double double.
If history is any indicator, the performances of both Raukawa and Jones was to be expected all along. Firstly, for Raukawa, it was a night of consistency and focus, following his perfect night from the free-throw line (13-13) which added to his 24 overall points, suitably accompanied by his seven assists. Secondly, for Jones, converting nine of his 22 attempts would account for his 21 points, alongside his whopping 16 rebounds and further adding to his historic season to this point.
Next up for the Airs is the struggling Canterbury Rams on Saturday night, who are now more than ever hungry for a win. Meanwhile, the Giants can recover for Sunday and look to cut the distance between themselves and the Otago Nuggets for fourth position.