Hawks step up in final stanza to claim narrow win over Sharks

HAWKES Bay Hawks will look to dethrone the top of the table Wellington Saints in the 2021 New Zealand National Basketball League (NZNBL) Grand Final after an exciting victory over Southland Sharks in the second semi-final last night. The Hawks won in a seven-point thriller against Sharks, after the teams were level at the final break. Now the Saints and Hawks will do battle in the decider tonight at Te Rauparaha Arena.

In a seesawing contest all night, neither team really felt comfortable when they held a lead, as the sides momentum ebbed and flowed and never got beyond 13 points, with double-digits only arising halfway through the last term. The game started with lead changes galore and a high-scoring opening stanza, as the Hawks took the ascendancy to head into quarter time with a seven-point lead. It was never going to be all one-way traffic however, and the Sharks hit back in the second quarter with an impressive 27-16 lead and put it out to a four-point advantage at half-time, which was their largest lead of the game.

Despite putting it out to six early in the third term, that was as far as it got for the Sharks, as each challenge Southland threw down to the Hawks, Hawkes Bay answered with flying colours. By the final break, the teams were as they started, completely level. That was all the Hawks needed, quickly gaining the momentum early in the fourth and blowing the lead right out to 13 points midway through the last term, and buying enough time to secure the win. To the Sharks’ credit they came back and cut the late deficit to seven by the final buzzer, but it was too little, too late and the Hawks got up with a 98-91 victory.

Hawkes Bay was the more accurate shooting team, putting up 51 to 44 per cent from the field, including 43 to 32 per cent from long-range. They also had more rebounds (42-41) and assists (15-13) in virtually even statistics, whilst also recoding five more points off their bench (17-12). The points in the paint and second chance points were dead even at 42 and seven points apiece respectively. Meanwhile the Sharks had three less turnovers (13-16) and therefore capitalised off turnovers (20-8). Southland also had more steals (9-6) and blocks (3-2) in the loss.

Devondrick Walker was the star, knocking down a game-high 33 points in the win, shooting six of 13 from long-range, and also recording five rebounds and two assists in the process. Hyrum Harris picked up a double-double of 19 points, 10 rebounds, three assists and two steals, while Ethan Rusbatch (14 points – four of eight from three-point range – and five rebounds) and Rhys Vague (13 points, nine rebounds, three assists and two steals) both contributed strongly from the start. Derone Raukawa shouldered the load off the bench with 13 points and three assists in 25 minutes.

Dom Kelman-Poto had 25 points, 11 rebounds and four assists was the clear standout for the Sharks in defeat, one of two players to pick up a double-double. Joshua Cunningham also had one with 13 points, 10 rebounds, three assists and two steals. Brayden Inger (18 points, four rebounds, two steals and two blocks), Courtney Belger (12 points, five rebounds, three assists and three steals) and Sione Helu (11 points) were the other double-figure points scorers for the Sharks.

Now the Hawks will need to dig deep in order to find a way to knock he top of the table Saints off their perch in tonight’s grand final.

Photo credit: PhotosportNZ via NZNBL

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