AFTER a glacial first half of play between the Canterbury Rams and the Otago Nuggets, the effective defence of Brent Matahere’s side and Jordan Ngatai’s player of the game performance was enough to earn their side the gutsy one-point win in last night’s 2020 Sal’s National Basketball League (NBL) Showdown.
CANTERBURY RAMS 14 | 13 | 20 | 27 (74)
OTAGO NUGGETS 13 | 14 | 26 | 22 (75)
Knowing they needed some answers if they were to end their seven-game skid, the Rams needed to attack the rim early with Reuben Te Rangi looking to aid Taylor Britt from the field.
This became evident, as the Rams opened up a 9-3 start six minutes in, with each of the two getting on the scoreboard early. But with neither side able to convert consistently in the first quarter, there were few highlights in the opening 10 minutes.
A pull-up three from Josh Aitcheson at the top of the key put the Nuggets ahead with a less than thirty seconds to play. But a nifty layup from Alexander Talma would give the Rams the minimal one-point lead heading into the second. As a result of this, neither side managed to shoot 40 per cent from the field or turn the ball over less than five times in a scrappy first period.
An ideal start to the second quarter thanks to Te Rangi and Samuel Smith, earned Canterbury some breathing room, leading by eight points at one stage early on in the second.
After a well-executed charge foul by Kane Keil gave the Nuggets some momentum, as the following play Keil would nail an off-balanced floater forcing the Rams to lack solutions in the second quarter. A couple minutes later, in what was another low-scoring quarter, a contact layup each from Jarrod Kenny and Aitcheson trimmed the deficit to two points.
Following the trading of baskets in the last couple of minutes, layups by Kenny once again and first round draft pick Ngatai, tied the contest up by the end of the first half 27-27, one of the lowest scoring first halves in the NZNBL this season.
At the conclusion of the first two quarters, the shooting struggles improved slightly for both sides. The Nuggets earned the majority of their points (six) from the free-throw line, indicating a more aggressive brand of basketball. Meanwhile, the Rams led in virtually all categories including rebounds, assists and steals, despite giving up 12 turnovers in the process.
A tidy 6-2 start to the second half for the Nuggets, put Otago in the driver’s seat thanks to Ngatai and Kenny kickstarting what would be a more action-packed quarter.
With individual players starting to knock down shots and accumulate double-digit totals, the floor would start to open up gradually. In particular, this included a monstrous slam dunk by Ngatai, which was followed by a contact layup by Akiva McBirney-Griffin forcing Canterbury to call a timeout.
After converting both of his free-throws, Samuel Aruwa would aid his side to a four-point lead. This preceded another Ngatai layup to give the Nuggets a six-point edge at the final break 51-45, as Otago started to threaten the Rams with a possible eighth loss in a row.
The Rams got off on the right foot, knocking down their opening three attempts of the final quarter. But initially, it failed to create a foothold in the deficit, as Otago consistently bounced back with field goals of their own.
Heading into the halfway point of the final term, Canterbury’s Smith contributed back-to-back-to-back-to-back layups in a bid to help his side draw even with time to spare. But again, the Nuggets frustratingly continued to keep the Rams at arm’s length.
Eventually, Canterbury finally started to make some headway off the back of Bailey’s floater with two minutes yet to be played trailing by one point, but Keil’s layup displaced the Rams further by two points, leading 72-69.
A three-pointer by Aitcheson followed by a block from Jordan Hunt all but sealed the game with 48 seconds remaining. A last second three-pointer by Rams’ guard Smith cut the deficit to a point, but it came too late, as time would expire on the Rams for the eighth consecutive time, falling to the Nuggets 74-75.
In what was only a one-point loss, the Rams would leave the floor knowing that it was their game to lose, as they accumulated a debilitating 21 turnovers. This was easily the standout statistic for the Rams, despite managing to shoot an efficient 46 per cent of their field goal attempts and lead in almost all categories across the board.
While the turnovers came in droves for the Rams, certain individuals had respectable nights on the whole. Smith, who finished his night with 22 points, four assists and four rebounds, was one of those players. Whereas, Talma submitted 14 points, eight rebounds and four assists, next to Britt who added just 12 points and five rebounds.
For Otago, it was a grinded out effort for Ngatai, who finished with man of the match honours. Amassing 25 points, five rebounds and four assists, while Aitcheson slotted in 12 points next to Kenny’s 11 and five rebounds.
The Nuggets improve their record to six wins and four losses in a much-needed win after their depressing one-point loss to the Airs on Tuesday. Meanwhile the Rams’ losing slide increases to eight games, pulling their record down deeper and deeper in the league’s standings, with a record of three wins and eight losses.
Otago line up again on Saturday, this time against the Franklin Bulls in what will be a battle of second and third. The winner of the contest will also tie with the Airs on top of the ladder in a match full of meaning this late in the season. On the other hand, it will be a battle of the two worst performing teams in the NZNBL, as the Rams face the Giants, where we will see one of the two teams’ losing streaks come to an end. Will it be Canterbury’s eight-game slide or Nelson’s streak of four? We will have an answer on Saturday night.