Tag: 2020 nznbl finals

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.

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.

Rams survive first challenge with thrilling win over Giants

CANTERBURY Rams have remained in the 2020 Sal’s National Basketball League (NBL) Finals Series following a tight four-point win over Nelson Giants, eliminating their opponents in the process. In what was a battle between the bottom two sides and the first of four sudden-death finals should one of these sides have made it to the grand final, the Rams were able to build on their last round win and record a narrow 93-89 victory thanks to strong play through the middle two quarters.

NELSON GIANTS 30 | 17 | 19 | 23 (89)
CANTERBURY RAMS 26 | 23 | 27 | 17 (93)

[ … FULL MATCH STATS … ]

Despite their low finishes on the ladder, a salivating matchup always beckoned as arguably the best back court in the league of the Rams contested arguably the best front court in the league of the Giants, and that was where the game started. Mike Karena won the tip emphatically and set the tone for the Giants’ offence early as the ageless Mika Vukona drove straight to the cup for two. Up the other end, Taylor Britt opted to be the facilitator and dropped a dime to offensive leader for the first half in Quintin Bailey for two at the rim for the Rams. Britt then found Toby Gillooly on the perimeter for three who was looking to have an impact early after fouling out in their last outing. With both teams knowing it was a do-or-die match, the intensity was red hot and Giants captain Tom Ingham stepped up with the reply from deep. It was game on.

All the stars were involved early as Tall Black Reuben Te Rangi used his strength to score inside, and Dane Brooks split the Rams defenders to earn his way to the free-throw line for two. The Giants controlled the early stages of the game as seven individual scorers saw them get out to an 11-point lead. With Karena getting on the board with his trademark post-hook, Rams coach Mick Downer had seen enough and called a timeout. He was not happy with his team’s tempo offensively and some errant passes, a sign that there was a lack of cohesion and chemistry due to not having a full-strength side for much of the season, as well as their defensive effort labelling it as “garbage”.

Canterbury managed to find another gear to finish the quarter much like their game on Saturday as Sam Smith hit his first of three triples for the game, and Alex Talma got it done at both ends of the floor. The game was back to a one possession lead until the experienced front court of the Giants managed a couple of baskets late in the quarter as the scores read 30-26 at the first break.

High intensity and efficiency offensively for Nelson saw them shooting 66 per cent from the three-point line while it was Bailey, who got the starting nod for the game, and his 10 first quarter points keeping the Rams within arms-length.

Britt made his way to the free-throw line to score his first points of the game two minutes into the second quarter, but he still hadn’t made a shot from five attempts on the floor. Ingham also hit from the charity stripe to find his way to double-figure scoring, as five quick fire Te Rangi points tied the scores for the first time since the early part of the game. Britt eventually made his first shot from the floor, but it was Ingham again stealing the show with a corner three, before forcing Gillooly to roll his ankle with a vicious step-back jumper on their next possession.

Jack Exeter returned from concussion with a corner three of his own, and Talma’s tough defence on Karena led to him draining a triple from the wing up the other end. He managed to keep Karena to just six first half points as the Rams led 49-47 at the main break thanks to their resurgent defensive effort. Bailey (13 points) and Talma (7 points, five rebounds) led the way for Canterbury while Britt was restricted to just four points (1-8 shooting). Nelson’s 10 turnovers were a concern with five of them coming from Vukona, but his nine points and eight rebounds (three offensive) were also very valuable in keeping the contest tight.

Josh Bloxham tied the game again with a layup to start the second half until the Talma and Karena matchup started to fire up. Both fired shots at each other from both ends in an impressive showcase of skill and speed from the big men. Talma eventually went down with an ankle injury after landing on it awkwardly in a shot contest. He would ice up and not return for the rest of the game. Nelson tried to expose the defensive hole that was left as Karena bullied his way to two offensive rebounds and an and-one. With Vukona securing a double-double with a quarter and change left to play, a Canterbury big needed to step up, and they did. The 18-year-old Tom Webley kept the pressure on Karena at both ends and ended the game with 13 points and seven rebounds, playing a big role in many of their defensive plays. His involvement sparked another late-quarter run for the Rams as they dominated the final three minutes to take a 76-66 lead heading into the last break.

Turnovers were again a big reason the Giants found themselves down having recorded eight in the third quarter alone, something they needed to rectify if they had any chance of keeping their season alive. Despite Webley’s solid play, Karena continued to attack him with an and-one starting the Giants on the right path of a comeback. Nelson oozed full court defensive pressure and active offence as the Giants knew it was all or nothing. Despite this, they could not quite take a big enough dent out of the Canterbury lead.

With just under four minutes left, a Tysxun Aiolupotea runner sparked a seven to nothing run to be back within four points with just a minute and a half left. This was the finish the fiery first half promised fans. The Giants managed another stop and had a chance to dig into the lead again. The ball pinballed around the court as neither team could quite recover the ball cleanly, until it slipped into the hands of Britt and he wasn’t letting go. Looking to extend their lead, he took off but was stopped and fouled at half court with 37 seconds left. The referees deliberated on whether it was an unsportsmanlike foul, and with enough contact, that call was made. After making the two free throws and getting to the line on their retained possession, the lead was back to eight and it looked like game over. That was not the case.

Brooks hit a three on his second attempt in the possession and in his typical athletic fashion, he forced a turnover on the inbound pass with a huge dive. A quick Ingham three bounced off the rim and into the hands of Karena who is not known for his exploits from deep, yet he understood the situation of the game and Reggie Miller step-backed behind the line and drained it. The game was back to two points but unfortunately for Nelson, the lead only extended with the Smith free-throws the last scores of the game.

A valiant fightback fell short as the Rams won 93-89 and with them back at full strength, four wins in five days to win the championship isn’t out of the realms of possibility. Despite a quiet first half, Britt led a team-binding win with 15 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and three steals while Bailey’s 19 points and eight rebounds was important for their first half efforts. Te Rangi (11 points, five rebounds) was important, while fans wait on news on Talma’s (10 points, five rebounds) injury.

Karena (19 points, five rebounds) and Ingham (19 points) were the best for eliminated Nelson outfit, as Vukona did what Vukona does and put up 14 points and 16 rebounds in the loss. As the Giants head home from the competition, the Rams now take on Auckland Huskies for a spot in the semi-finals. If the Rams get up, they will face the red-hot Otago Nuggets in the semi-finals.