Tag: 2020 nznbl finals series

Jets defeat Airs in semi, set up top two grand final with Nuggets

THE Manawatu Jets have knocked out the Taranaki Mountain Airs in a fast-paced second semi-final 105-95, therefore earning the right to compete for the New Zealand National Basketball League (NZNBL) Championship for just the second time in the club’s history.

MANAWATU JETS 34 | 21 | 12 | 38 (105)
TARANAKI AIRS 23 | 27 | 20 | 25 (95)

[ … FULL MATCH STATS … ]

Having fallen to them in both of their prior meetings, the Airs had no intention of getting off to a slow start against the Jets. But to make sure they got off on the right foot, Doug Courtney’s side had to neutralise the newly crowned MVP in Thomas Vodanovich. Meanwhile for Manawatu, their priorities laid with halting the league’s most lethal duo in Derone Raukawa (led the League in points and assists) and Marcel Jones (led the League in rebounding).

Both sides traded buckets early on, exchanging the lead seven times in the opening five minutes in a seesawing opening quarter. Five straight points from Ashton McQueen seven minutes in, saw the Jets produce the first noticeable advantage in the game leading by eight with two minutes to go in the first. This was emphasised further after a triple from Nicholas Fee found its mark and as a result, Manawatu found themselves leading by double-digits at the first intermission and shooting at a remarkable 68 per cent.

Taranaki’s frontcourt started to make its mark on the game, as Shane Temara and Tai Wynyard got early buckets in the second, using their strong bodies to gain valuable second chance points. A 6-0 run for the Airs brought the contest back to just a single possession, but the stint was quickly undone after Hyrum Harris converted a momentum killing And-One. Nevertheless, a physical brand of basketball from both teams kept spectators on their toes for the rest of the first half. Even though Manawatu maintained an efficient shooting clip, so did Taranaki. This time it was the Airs’ backcourt that started to make the difference, with individuals like Raukawa and Kenneth Tuffin closing the gap at half-time.

If Zachary Easthope had not fouled Jayden Bezzant on his last second three-point attempt, the Airs would have only trailed by a single basket at the main break. However, that was not the sequence and Bezzant capitalised, making all three shots from the charity strike and gifting the Jets a convenient five-point lead. As both teams shot at 51 per cent, it was Manawatu that could thank their aggressiveness for getting their noses ahead, getting to the line 11 times compared to the Airs who shot just five free-throws.

On an individual level, Jones stood alone at the top of both rosters. The All-Star Five nominee secured 18 first half points and nine rebounds without a missing a second of play through 20 minutes. Meanwhile, guards Bezzant and Raukawa both made noticeable contributions with 13 points each for their respective teams. Wynyard’s size proved too much for Taane Samuel and the Jets early on, with a couple of baskets two minutes into the third and Temara provided the extra points where they were needed. This tied the game at 58 three minutes into the second half and the seesawing affair would resume again. A magical spinning floater in the key from Raukawa with three minutes to go in the third, gave the Airs the lead for the first time since the opening term. This was further compounded following an exquisite pick-and-roll between Jones and Wynyard, extending their fragile lead to three with a quarter to play and a critical quarter overall for the Airs, winning the term 20-12.

The duo of Samuel and Harris proved fruitful in the infant stages of the final quarter, helping their side even up the game and eventually retake the lead two minutes into the period. Then, a 10-0 run from the Jets capped off by a McQueen fast-break three, got Manawatu’s noses in front by eight and regained control back to Tim McTamney’s boys. Manawatu blew the game out of the water at the mid-way stage of the fourth, putting the deficit into double digits once again and forcing Raukawa and Jones to force their hands on numerous trips up the floor. With Taranaki in the bonus with more than four minutes still to play, it made closing the gap on the Jets that much more difficult, as they trailed by 10 in the dwindling moments of the game.

League MVP Tom Vodanovich would contribute to seven of his team’s final 11 points before picking up his fifth foul with a minute remaining, as consistent free-throw shooting topped off a well-rounded night for the Jets, eliminating a resilient Taranaki side 105-95 and earning their second ever Grand Final spot in club history. Even though the Airs shot better overall on the night, it was Manawatu that forced Taranaki to make an abundance of errors throughout the four quarters. While the Jets conceded eight takeaways in 40 minutes, Taranaki were induced into giving up the ball a total of 16 times, 12 of which were as a result of steals. In turn the Jets punished the Airs for this, scoring 25 points from turnovers, being a major factor in their side’s victory.

Vodanovich put together a team-high 28 points along with 11 rebounds, while Harris contributed another multi-faceted game with 17 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists and seven steals accounting for more than half of the team’s steal totals. Another surprising participant for the Jets was big-man, Taane Samuel, securing 23 points and five rebounds in over 30 minutes on the floor. In their final outing, like so many times before, the Airs’ highlights came from predominantly two men. Raukawa who was a man on a mission found his way to account for 32 points and five assists, while his right-hand man in Jones submitted 25 points, 13 rebounds and six assists in the loss.

Manawatu Jets’ forward, Harris credited the outcome post-game to a strong second half, noting a change in defensive transition and focusing their attention more on their scoring, but remains confident heading into the grand final.

“I think with us it’s just a mental thing,” said Harris. “We’ve just got to push through those sorts of calls and any stuff that happens, but I think we did a good job of it [tonight] and obviously we came out with the win.”

The Jets look to Saturday’s Grand Final looking to exact revenge on an Otago Nuggets team that has beaten them in all four of their previous encounters to this point (most recently by 25 in the qualifying final). Can Manawatu promote a different result the fifth time round? We will find out tomorrow night.

Nuggets reach first grand final in franchise history, halt Rams’ run

LIKE all great stories, there is eventually an ending. This was the case for the Canterbury Rams’ spectacular New Zealand National Basketball League (NZNBL) Finals Week run, as they fell to the minor premiers and championship favourites, the Otago Nuggets. In what was a clinic from the Nuggets’ marquee signings, Jordan Hunt in particular helped elevate his side to their Franchise’s first ever Grand Final appearance, after surgically defeating a fatigued Rams squad, 97-79.

Knowing full well that Canterbury was not fully rested, Hunt expressed post-game that it was a major point for him and his side to exploit. “We just wanted to come out strong,” said Hunt. “It was pretty tough on the Rams coming off of two previous games in two days, so we just tried to put the foot on early and keep it there.”

OTAGO NUGGETS 29 | 25 | 27 | 16 (97)
CANTERBURY RAMS 22 | 17 | 18 | 22 (79)

[ … FULL MATCH STATS … ]

Having already pulled of remarkable upsets in their first and second elimination finals against the Nelson Giants and the Auckland Huskies, Canterbury’s biggest and most challenging opponent stood directly in front of them.

Pre-dating their third matchup, the Nuggets had emerged victorious over their South Island neighbours on both occasions. But, with both of those meetings being decided by 10 points or less, the Rams were not an immediate write-off before the opening tip. However, coming off a strong qualifying final triumph over the Manawatu Jets, it certainly seemed a ‘David vs Goliath-type’ line-up for the two sides and Otago was determined to win the franchise’s first NZNBL title.

Number one pick Jordan Ngatai kicked off the proceedings with an aggressive layup with his favoured left hand, while Joshua Aitcheson added to Nuggets confident start. Then 100 seconds in, an up-and-under layup by Rams’ captain Taylor Britt on Defensive Player of the Year Jarrod Kenny, got the second of the two teams up off the ground.

The ball started to find some range during the middle stages of the first quarter as both sides starting looking to the deep-ball, and at an efficient rate. A 35-second stretch saw back-to-back-to-back threes from Rams Toby Gillooly and Alexander Talma and Otago’s Kenny, highlighting the accurate shooting in the opening 10 minutes of play.

Keeping Mick Downer’s squad at arm’s length during the first term, a corner-three via Hunt extended Otago’s advantage to greater than two possessions, helping the Nugs to an advantageous 29-22 quarter-time lead. The Nuggets maintained 61 per cent shooting from the field off of 11 made attempts, nine of which were created through assists, as Hunt and Ngatai accumulated nine and eight points apiece amongst a fast-paced first term.

Another Kenny triple extended Otago’s lead to 10 points kicking off the second, but the Rams tried another approach of scoring, which came evident throughout the duration of the period. Going with a twin-tower formation between Talma and Thomas Webley, Canterbury hammered Otago’s frontcourt around the rim with close-range shots. But the Nuggets continued to capitalise on easy baskets, more times than not through dribble penetration and lacklustre help defence courtesy of the Rams.

Canterbury’s second half prospects of a comeback were hindered further, following a put back layup from Hunt. Otago held a handsome 54-39 half-time lead as a result of forcing numerous turnovers with Canterbury’s total at nine. Talma led his side in points at the main break, but with Hunt, Ngatai and Kenny each in double-digits at this stage, the Rams needed to pull a rabbit out of the hat if they were to claw their way back into the match.

With the Rams shooting 40 per cent leading into the third quarter, the red and black needed to hit their shots and quickly with time running out. But the second half started with defence for the Rams, as Reuben Te Rangi’s statement block on Ngatai set the tone for the next 10 minutes.

Even though both teams struggled to convert from the field, the Nuggets at least found some success on their shots, slowly but surely stringing together a 7-0 run to begin the second half and pushing their already commanding lead to 20 points. With the Rams desperately needing solutions, Brent Matehaere’s squad could smell blood and looked to their ball movement to deliver one last debilitating blow to a struggling Canterbury outfit.

As more of Otago’s bench players were getting some court time, fatigue became more and more of a factor in the later stages of the contest, as the Rams just could not keep up with the top-ranked seed in the League. And after Kane Keil’s reverse layup with 20 seconds remaining in the third, the 24-point lead (81-57) in favour of the Nuggets looked insurmountable for Canterbury, while Hunt continued his rampage, sitting pretty with 28 points through three phases.

Despite Canterbury’s roster depth and winning out in the bench points statistic, there was simply no answer for Otago’s marquee signings. This, coupled with the fact that the Rams were playing their third game in as many days, marked a battle that the underdogs just could not win.

One last charge for the Rams would ensue, off the back of Samuel Smith and Benjamin Carlile-Smith baskets, bringing the deficit to as little as 13 points. But following Darcy Knox’s layup and Ngatai’s three with a few seconds left, the Nuggets would cross the finish line cementing their place in the club’s first Final ever, knocking off the dark-horse Rams 97-79.

Otago’s 50 per cent shooting carried them for all four quarters as well as their 22 assists, capping off a well-rounded team effort on the night.

Leading them through the game, Hunt’s game-high 33 points and 10 rebounds earned him man of the match honours, as Ngatai and Kenny added 23 and 16 points each, as well as both of players doling out seven assists.

Sam Smith led the Rams in scoring with a flurry of late buckets, compiling a modest 13 points. Meanwhile, the duo of captain Britt and Webley combined for 24 points, whereas Te Rangi concluded his night with 10, alongside three rebounds and three assists.

The Rams’ Cinderella story came to an unfortunate ending last night after surprising most pundits to this point, but the Nuggets were plainly the more superior side over four quarters and can now look forward to their first ever grand final appearance on Saturday since their inception in 1990 when they face the Jets.

All-Star duo lead Airs to elimination final win over Bulls

IN a clash of completely different styles, the Taranaki Mountainairs have defeated Franklin Bulls in a nine-point thriller to advance through to the 2020 Sal’s National Basketball League (NBL) semi-finals last night. In a seesawing contest the Airs were able to finish stronger, defeat the Bulls 99-90 and set their sights on a final four clash with Manawatu Jets tomorrow night.

TARANAKI AIRS 26 | 22 | 24 | 27 (99)
FRANKLIN BULLS 18 | 27 | 19 | 26 (90)

[ … FULL MATCH STATS … ]

There were not many better ways to start off finals week than to have Marcel Jones and Derone Raukawa be unveiled in the Sal’s NBL All-Star Five. That and to have the Airs – the best offence –  to face the Bulls – best defence – in a knockout elimination final.

In an attempt to control the rhythm of the game, the Airs came out with a 2-3 zone, an excellent strategy used to slow down play. So in order to combat this sluggishness, the Bulls tested their luck from deep, a lot. Safe to say the Airs’ coaching staff made the right choice as the Bulls came out cold, making just three of their first 14 shot attempts. 

A timeout was called by the Bulls, but to no avail. The more the Bulls missed open threes, the colder they got and the less the Rams were inclined to give up paint position. When the Airs did find a way to force themselves in the paint, they were swarmed with five yellow jerseys cutting off all angles, hence forcing a kick out pass to a shooter on the perimeter.  

Eventually Isaac Davidson drained a contested three – his first after three bricks – and the Airs saw their first slither of momentum. What preceded in the next 40 seconds however was truly remarkable. The Bulls stole the ball three times and snatched two offensive rebounds before they finally made a basket. That is five shots taken before the Airs could even leave half court, all resulting in a singular layup.  

The Bulls ended the first down by only eight points. Which is not too bad considering they just shot two for 16 from three. But yet, the lack of aggressiveness that so badly inhibited their offence in the first, had now transferred all the way over to their defensive efforts, as they frequently allowed Bulls’ players to drive past them for easy layups. Simply put, the more the Bulls threw up ugly shots from three, the more the lead continued to grow. Hence, the greater the hill to climb for what is statistically the least impactful offence in the league. 

This missing aggressiveness was only highlighted when the Bulls took their first free throws of the game with five and a half minutes left in the second. 

But when you throw enough up, they have to start dropping soon and that is exactly what happened for Jackson Stubbins who hit back to back threes to shrink the deficit to three points. Slow close outs, clumsy passes and a technical foul put on Jones and the Bulls had officially climbed the hill, tying the game 40 apiece. Although the Airs were responsible for reeling them back in, they never allowed them to lead, ending the first half 50-48.

The Taranaki Mountainairs lost the privilege to say that as the Bulls saw their first lead of the game, with an ‘aggressive’ and-one from Dominique Kelman-Poto. One reason the Bulls kept within a fighting chance was for their work on the glass. Poor box-outs and lack of communication on behalf of the Airs had brought this once anaemic contest to a now fiery battle.  

If the Bulls wanted to remain the leaders on the scoreboard, they would have to find an answer for Jones who seemed to have the hot hand all night, as he brought back the lead for his team. The Bulls tried to answer back with a missed three, then another, then another, all while Jones had hit his last three three-pointers. Within a blink of an eye, the Bulls went from breathtaking comeback to down by nine points… again. 

The Bulls had already been on a 24-9 run, but with only 10 minutes on the clock, down by eight, the last quarter was not going to be easy. To do this, they needed to stay tight on the perimeter defensively and get a little lucky on offence. Funny enough, the Bulls started the quarter with suburb switching and smart help defence, forcing the Airs to put up an ugly shot before the Bulls splashed it in from three in transition. 

More aggressive drive plays from Kelman-Poto and the Bulls were able to cut the deficit to four. But like with every time the Bulls fought the deficit, they fell right back down the hill. The Airs won the game 99-90, and now head off to the semi-finals to take on the Manawatu Jets.

The win was only possible on the back of some special players like Raukawa who finished the contest with 28 points, seven rebounds, three assists and three steals. Clearly Jones was motivated after being named in the All-Star Five as he left the ball game with 31 points while also securing 10 rebounds, seven assists and two blocks. Tai Wynyard (11 points, nine rebounds) came close to a double-double, whilst Shane Temara finished with eight points and seven rebounds in a solid effort. Coming off the bench for 15 minutes, Mitch Dance sank a couple of baskets and nailed his free throws to go at 100 per cent efficiency for six points and five rebounds.

Although it was not the Bulls’ night, no one will hold the result against Kelman-Poto who notched up 31 points alongside 10 rebounds, four assists and three rebounds. Isaac Davidson played a handy role with 24 points, three rebounds, two assists and one steel, but struggled with accuracy, shooting just 38 per cent from the field. Stubbins (12 points, seven rebounds, three assists and one steal) was the other player to reach double-figure points. 

The Taranaki Mountainairs take on the Manawatu Jets tonight at 7.30pm local time.

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.