Tag: Akiva McBirney-Griffin

Otago strikes gold, defeating Jets for first ever NZNBL title

THE New Zealand National Basketball League (NZNBL) 2020 season has ended in a thriller, with the Otago Nuggets clenching their first ever Championship title, in an exhilarating 79-77 conclusion to the campaign over the Manawatu Jets. The contest saw many lead changes and scoring runs and could only be separated by a missed three-pointer at the buzzer with Brent Matehaere and his boys heading back to the South Island with an extra piece of silverware.

OTAGO NUGGETS 15 | 22 | 15 | 27 (79)
MANAWATU JETS 17 | 24 | 14 | 22 (77)

[ … FULL MATCH STATS … ]

This year’s NZNBL Grand Final was a matchup between the two undisputed top teams all season long, but the Jets had a massive chip on their shoulder, as they were yet to defeat the Nuggets in their four prior contests. But the green and white looked to their key players to have a noticeable impact on a Nuggets squad that had yet to face adversity up to this point of their campaign.

It was Manawatu with the explosive first punch as Hyrum Harris slammed down the two-hand jam just mere seconds after the opening tip. This was then followed up with a layup from Thomas Vodanovich, as the Jets stunned Otago within the opening sequences. The experience of Jarrod Kenny and the range of Joshua Aitcheson quickly settled the nerves amongst their side, with a couple of field goals in what would be an adrenaline-filled opening term.

While both sides continued to trade baskets in the initial minutes, Manawatu maintained a slight edge, as they got to the rim fast and early on dribble penetration and fast break offence. The second half of the first quarter entailed a scrappier brand of basketball, as both teams struggled to find their targets. This trend was abruptly bucked after a strong second chance bucket from youngster Akiva McBirney-Griffin, after almost three minutes without a made basket from both sides, cutting the deficit to one point, 13-12.

Aitcheson’s lucky drop from three-point range and a putback-layup from Nelson Kirksey concluded proceedings in the first period, with the Jets held a fragile 17-15 lead thanks to their defensive pressure. Otago’s nine opening-quarter turnovers and Manawatu’s six steals created what seemed like a lop-sided first 10 minutes, but Aitcheson’s two threes were keeping the Nuggets within striking range.

Matehaere’s bigs Jordan Hunt and Kane Keil came through with a couple buckets to lead off the second, quickly handing the side the lead while appearing to have a new level of calm. But, back-to-back layups for Vodanovich quickly reminded spectators why he was named the league’s Most Valuable Player.

Early foul trouble for Jordan Ngatai and an extended rest period for Kenny early in the second quarter, saw Otago’s second unit display some terrific ball movement. The main highlight of this was a well-executed corner three by way of Richard Rodger. A similar story to the first, the Jets maintained a slight lead heading into half-time and following an And-One from Harris with less than two minutes remaining, it seemed Manawatu would inherit the momentum. But, Keil’s three to answer back with 90 seconds to go undid most of that.

In a half that saw eight lead changes and a halfway deficit of just four points (37-41), the NZNBL’s final game of the season had it all. But the main talking point of the game to this point was Ngatai’s lack of court time through 20 minutes. The number one draft pick had only seven minutes and 46 seconds on the hardwood, which when coupled with Otago’s 14 giveaways, was slightly worrying for Tim McTamney’s side that they were not further ahead.

Vodanovich and Kirksey led the way on the scoreboard for Manawatu with 11 each, whereas Hunt and Keil contributed 11 and 10 points for the Nuggets in a first half that saw a different story of play from each squad. With Ngatai making his return in the second half, Otago had an air of composure surrounding them, kicking off the third period with a fast-break layup to Hunt a minute and a half in. As well as Keil knocking down the mid-range jumper shortly after.

The two players helped the Nuggets to a remarkable 10-0 run, which was capped off by Ngatai’s first bucket of the game leading to a Jets timeout to try and stall the Minor Premier’s confidence.

Manawatu’s team huddle worked momentarily, as Kalib Mullins knocked down a triple to get the Jets bench on their feet. The rest of the third period remained relatively level-headed, with Manawatu grinding their way back into a one-possession game and eventually back into the lead credited to Vodanovich’s second three of the game, putting the score at 51-50.

Late buckets from Harris and Jayden Bezzant helped the Jets re-secure the lead for the final break, leading 55-52 with the final stanza still to be played and neither team really gaining a real upper hand on one another.

Ngatai’s quarter-opening layup and Aitcheson’s third three of the contest gifted the lead back to Otago, and Keil added insult to injury with a third three of his own. An And-One from Ngatai rounded out an 11-0 run for the Nuggets blowing the game out of the water two and a half minutes into the final period.

However, over the next five minutes, the combination of Vodanovich, Harris and Bezzant brought the deficit back to as little as three points with just over two minutes left in the game. But, another signature right-hand jam from Ngatai held off the Jets a while longer in an event filled final two minutes. A couple buckets from Bezzant brought Manawatu back from the dead with less than a minute to go making the score 78-77, and after Hunt conceded a shot-clock violation with 33 seconds left for Otago, the Jets had the chance to win the game with one more field goal.

But Ngatai had other plans, after pinning Harris’s layup to the backboard on a game saving block with 29 seconds left. After a couple of intentional fouls, Aitcheson’s single made free-throw put the Nuggets up by two.

Not calling a final timeout, the last second half court heave from Kirksey would hit the left side of the rim to end the final play of the season, as the Nuggets held on for a hard-fought 79-77 win. After the two-point triumph, the reality had set in for Otago knowing that they had won their franchise’s first ever NZNBL title.

In a game that saw both teams earn every single basket, neither side was able to crack 50 per cent shooting, but the difference proved to be Otago’s range as they knocked down 10 triples over the four phases of play compared to Manawatu’s six. Another glaring difference in the statistics was the rebounding totals, with Otago earning a plus-13 on the boards (48-35).

Despite Manawatu forcing 23 turnovers from the Nuggets, it was Otago that capitalised on their chances, earning 20 points from turnovers, five more than the Jets.

After an honourable 21-point and seven-rebound performance, it was only fitting that Jordan Hunt was awarded Finals MVP honours. Meanwhile, Aitcheson had himself a season-best performance of his own, amassing 16 points off of four threes and six rebounds.

Despite limited minutes with just 11 points and eight turnovers, Ngatai still made valuable contributions with six rebounds and four assists. Whereas, Kenny had an all-around night with six points, seven boards and eight assists.

Another MVP-calibre performance from Vodanovich (24 points, 10 rebounds and four steals) was not enough to get his side over the hump. Nevertheless, another great night from Harris (19 points, 12 rebounds, four assists and three steals) rounded out a prolific season on the whole for the two New Zealanders.

In what was a top-to-bottom job from the beginning of the season, it was certainly an entertaining finale to the NZNBL for 2020 and after receiving his championship medal, Coach Matehaere credited his team for their tremendous finish to the season.

“To my guys, you wouldn’t have seen it on television because we were sitting behind a screen, but on Draft Night… oh what a night,” reminisced the Coach of the Year.“ I was smiling all the way through [picks] one to 12 or one to 84. Kia Ora boys, this is our moment.”

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.

Giants trounce Nuggets, gain essential morale before finals

ANOTHER upset win for the Nelson Giants can be added to the books, as they came away with an impressive 23-point shellacking of the top of the table Otago Nuggets in last night’s 2020 Sal’s National Basketball League (NBL) middle game of the triple-header.

NELSON GIANTS 21 | 31 | 22 | 23 (97)
OTAGO NUGGETS 28 | 15 | 15 | 16 (74)

[ … FULL MATCH STATS … ]

Knowing full well the outcome of last night’s result was to have no effect on each team’s positioning for next week’s Finals, the Nuggets were without starting big-man Jordan Hunt and stretch-four shooter Kane Keil. As a result, both Brent Matehaere and Mike Fitchett could tinker around with their sides before their games next week, despite it being a clash between first and second last. It also allowed both coaches to allow any players with “niggles” to gain much needed rest.

Even though young Kiwi big-man Akiva McBirney-Griffin got the starting nod from his side, Mike Karena quickly reminded him of the pecking order to begin the game, converting on a running hook. Nevertheless, Joshua Aitcheson knocked down a triple to get the ball rolling for the Nuggets. It was evident early on that each team went about scoring in totally different fashions. For the Giants, it was attacking the rim hard and getting up close and personal with Otago’s frontcourt, as 14 of their first 17 points came from inside the paint. For the Nuggets, they knocked down five shots from deep in their first ten attempts, signalling a more distant approach to getting on the scoreboard. The quarter time totals would reflect a slight advantage in favour of the Nuggets, who’s 28-21 lead came as a result of their bench’s contributions, outscoring Nelson’s 12-2 in the first 10 minutes. Eight points of which, came by way of Darcy Knox, along with Matthew Bardsley and Samuel Aruwa hitting a shot each.

To commence the second, Nelson slowly but surely began to crawl their way back taking the lead halfway through the quarter, thanks to a corner three from Thomas Ingham. But, both sides would remain within earshot of one another, dealing blows to back and forth for most of the remaining few minutes in the first half. Consecutive fast-break layups from Karena and a three-pointer from Tom Gargiulo handed Nelson a commanding nine-point lead heading into the main intermission after a 31-15 period, due mainly to instrumental rebounds, which in turn translated to a bunch of second chance points in the paint over the first two periods (14-4). Karena and Knox both led their teams in scoring at halftime, with the Giants’ center compiling 17 points in eleven and a half minutes of court time, before getting the second half started with an and-one.

A nice Euro-Step by Jordan Ngatai got the number one draft pick going after a rather quiet first half, making just one three in the initial 20 minutes of game time. With this being just one example of lacklustre performances through three quarters, Otago struggled to cut into the double-digit deficit that the Giants had created. An enormous dunk by Ngatai looked to spark an injection of energy into his side, as McBirney-Griffin repeated the action on the next play forcing Nelson to call a time-out.

The task of a fourth quarter comeback was made even harder for the Nuggets however, after a hook-shot once again from Karena extended Nelson’s lead to 16 with 30 seconds left in the third, as both teams went to the huddle one more time for the regular season with Nelson on top 74-58. Nicolas Trathen made Otago’s lofty deficit even greater to start the fourth, following a friendly roll from deep. And to make matters worse, Zeb Lovell’s up-and-under layup helped Nelson to their biggest lead of the contest (20). The Nuggets remained persistent in staying in the contest, but the fact of the matter was that Otago was undermanned and lacking size. And after Gargiulo was able to find the target for his second three with three minutes to go, Nelson could secure the upset result and obtain their fifth win of the year, taking home the triumph 97-74.

It was a one-sided affair down low in the paint, as the absences of Hunt and Keil factored majorly into the statistics. Nelson put their foot down with an impressive 52 points in the paint compared to Otago’s 30. While a number of bench players got remarkably more minutes due to the insignificance of the meeting, it remained a two-man effort through four quarters. A stat line of 26 points in 17 minutes, alongside three rebounds and three assists rounded out a dominant night around the rim for Karena, whereas Ingham was feeling his stroke to finish off the season with three threes to go next to his 17 points and six rebounds in another quality performance.

In what was a quiet night for both Jarrod Kenny and Ngatai, with both combining for 29 minutes of court time, the night belonged to the youngsters. Props went to Knox, who came off the bench to account for a team-high 17 points, meanwhile McBirney-Griffin and Richard Rodger each paved their own way with 13 points apiece.

The fates of both teams are already known for their first matchups of Finals Week, as the Nuggets who locked up top spot in standings go up against the Manawatu Jets in the qualifying final on Tuesday night. At the other end of the table, the Giants lock horns with the Canterbury Rams on Tuesday night as well, however, it will be a win or go home situation, as the teams engage in first elimination final of the postseason.

Otago grounds Jets, Nuggets solidify top spot ahead of Finals Week

IN a battle of the top two teams in the 2020 Sal’s National Basketball League (NBL), the Otago Nuggets out-bodied a persistent Manawatu side to claim the top seed on the ladder after grounding the Jets 97-85.

This comes after MVP-candidate Jordan Ngatai put on a spectacular performance last night, with each victory building much needed momentum as Finals Week fast approaches for next Tuesday.

OTAGO NUGGETS 23 | 29 | 28 | 17 (97)
MANAWATU JETS 26 | 22 | 16 | 21 (85)

[ … FULL MATCH STATS … ]

With the minor premiership on the line, both sides knew the importance of last night’s meeting, but with the two teams possibly matching up in the qualifying final, neither side was too keen on giving away too much in terms of tactics. Nevertheless, the game would go ahead, as Manawatu got off on the right foot to begin last night’s proceedings with a 10-2 start, thanks to their marquee signings in Jayden Bezzant, Thomas Vodanovich and Hyrum Harris. The slow start for Otago was quickly remedied, as Joshua Aitcheson’s consecutive threes brought the Nuggets back to a level playing field halfway through the opening period. However, back-to-back threes from Vodanovich (his third of the quarter) and Nicholas Fee placed momentum back into the hands of the Jets heading into the first intermission. The Jets’ 26-23 first quarter lead was a fragile one, as Jordan Ngatai got his stroke going in the last few seconds.

Vodanovic’s rhythm continued into the second and eventually half-time, as he opened up the term with another triple to add to his name, but Otago’s Kane Keil returned the favour with one of his own beginning what would become an action packed second period. Even though Manawatu maintained their impressive 50 per cent shooting in the second term, it was an even more impressive 10 minutes for Otago’s Ngatai. The number one draft pick built upon his strong first quarter to possess 22 points at the main intermission along with four rebounds and four assists. Ngatai’s counterpart in Vodanovich also had himself a solid first-half performance, constructing a two quarter 17-point effort, as his side trailed by a slim four points at the main break, 52-48.

Keil’s and-one gave the Nuggets a lovely seven-point edge to begin the second half, as the game’s tempo slowed down for both sides for most of the third quarter. Six minutes in, a technical foul to Taane Samuel allowed the free-throws of Ngatai and Akiva McBirney-Griffin to gift the Nuggets their biggest lead of the contest, leading 73-60. A few minutes later, Richard Roger’s knock-down three would put the Nuggets up by a devastating 18 points, setting up a fourth quarter that needed to be perfect from the Jets if they were to crawl their way back into the uphill battle. Despite Manawatu forcing 11 turnovers from the Nuggets, Otago did a beautiful job moving the ball, accruing 18 assists to the Jets’ 10 prior to the final period. Additionally, the Nuggets owned a plus-six in the rebounding numbers through three-quarters, signalling a hard-earned lead up to this point.

A 7-2 start for Otago in the fourth extended their lead past 20 points for the first time in the game, as a frustrated Manawatu outfit could not find a way to body up against a strong Nuggets line-up. But the Jets would fight back, through getting to the free-throw line and from deep thanks to Nelson Kirksey, capping off a tidy 10-0 run to bring Manawatu to within eight points. However, once again, Keil made his points count, knocking down another three to halt the comeback with a couple minutes remaining and extending the Nuggets’ lead back to double digits. After knocking down his sixth and seventh free throws, Ngatai polished off a resilient Jets side to help Otago secure their ninth win of the season with the 97-85 outcome, thus obtaining the minor premiership in subsequent fashion.

Following their win against Manawatu last night for the third time this season, it continues their winning streak to four-straight across the competition and solidifies their top spot on the ladder. This comes as Brent Matehaere’s squad shot and passed the lights out in the win. In terms of shooting, the Nuggets maintained a conversion rate of 46 per cent throughout four quarters and 37 per cent from three (13/35). Alongside this was Otago’s ball-movement, as they stockpiled 20 assists, seven more than the Jets in that statistic specifically.

You could point to a lot of factors for last night’s result, but there is no denying the monstrous effort from New Zealand Tall-Black, Ngatai, as the 27-year-old garnered 37 points, seven rebounds and five assists in a beautiful display of effort and accuracy. On top of Ngatai’s performance, three others dropped double-digit totals, as Keil’s 16, Jordan Hunt’s 15 and Aitcheson’s 14 points helped Otago over the line tremendously. Once again, Vodanovich rang true as Manawatu’s back bone, collecting a formidable stat-line of 28 points and six rebounds. Harris’ 20 points and 12 rebounds reflected a successful night out on an individual level, while Bezzant had a relatively quiet night, after acquiring just 13 points and five rebounds from the point.

The win for Otago establishes the Nuggets as the team to beat in the postseason, seeing their record improve to nine wins and four losses, the League’s undisputed best as they await the Nelson Giants in their season closer. The loss for the Jets keeps them ranked second in Sal’s NBL for the time being, as the Franklin Bulls require the Jets to lose their final contest against the Auckland Huskies on Saturday, as well as a win of their own and favourable results to account for the point differentials.

Nuggets win by one, sentence Rams to eighth straight loss

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)

[ … FULL MATCH STATS … ]

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.

Nuggets bury Giants with final term flurry

OTAGO Nuggets found an extra gear when required in the final term to storm past an understrength but gallant Nelson Giants in the 2020 Sal’s National Basketball League (NBL) Showdown clash last night. The Nuggets pulled all the strings throughout the game, and were in control to the extent that Wednesday night’s top scorer and Most Valuable Player (MVP) Jarrod Kenny did not even attempt a shot. Instead, it was Jordan Ngatai who led the way with 23 points, as well as three rebounds, three assists and three steals, supported well by a host of teammates.

OTAGO NUGGETS 26 | 30 | 20 | 31 (107)
NELSON GIANTS 19 | 26 | 21 | 16 (82)

[ … FULL GAME STATS … ]

Despite some whispers that star Giant and Tall Blacks legend Mika Vukona might take to the court during the match, Nelson opted to let their first pick sit out and instead return for Sunday night’s clash with Manawatu Jets. Given the Giants were still missing other top three draft selections, Mike Karena and Dane Brooks, the firepower was severely impacted. Not so much for the Nuggets, fresh off a win against the Jets 24 hours earlier, as they raced away to a 26-19 lead at quarter time.

Kane Keil score the first points of the night, as he and Jordan Hunt went to work early with four points apiece leading the Nuggets to an 8-2 advantage five minutes into the term. Whilst many expected Kenny and Ngatai to do all the damage early, it was the former who opted to use his slick passing to advantage to dish off dimes to teammates, whilst the latter had just four points in the term.

Young gun Tysxun Aiolupotea was doing what he could in the first term, forcing fouls from the opposition and scoring four consecutive free throws to cut the nine-point deficit into a five-point one late in the term. Thomas Ingham‘s desperate attempt to score in the last few seconds saw him finish the term with a couple of free throws himself and his side headed in seven points behind.

Ngatai soon made his intentions known with the first five points of the second term, whilst Hunt completed the alley oop from Kenny, earned the foul and then sank the and-one opportunity. When Ngatai made it eight points for the term in less than two minutes, he and his side were in complete control and the margin had blown out to 18 points. Ingham and Nicolas Trathen tried their hand to get the Giants back into it with the next five points, but another clever layup after a steal from Keil piled on more pressure for the trailing side.

Without the Giants’ big three, Ingham and Trathen were left to pick up the slack in the first half as the pair almost exclusively piled on the points scoring 34 of the Giants’ 45 points. Trathen had 19, as well as five rebounds and an assist at the half, whilst Ingham had 15, seven and three in an equally big performance. Ngatai had started to get his hot hands going with 14 points in the term to move up to 18, as he became the predominant score alongside Hunt who had 12.

Coming out after half-time, Kenny’s refusal to put up a shot continued as he provided a neat assist to Ngatai for a layup. Otago had led by 11 at the main break thanks to a Jack Andrew buzzer beating dunk, but were not out of the woods yet. Nelson could not quite find the right formula to score enough. The game looked all but over in the third term when Richard Rodger drilled a three-point jumper with seven minutes remaining after the Nuggets had gone on a tear, scoring nine of the first points for the term.

A late inclusion into the Giants squad and wearing the injured Thane O’Leary guernsey, Josh Leger tried all he could getting into the post, visibly frustrated by the Nuggets’ defence, but he was forcing them to be accountable on that end. To that point earlier in the term, the Giants defence around the perimeter had been lax which let the Nuggets free reign at times shooting from long-range. Both Leger and Zeb Lovell were starting to work their magic and then came Riley Bensemann.

Trailing by 14 points, the Giants shooter shot back-to-back three-pointers, then handed off an assist for a Josh Bloxham three minutes later. In a remarkable turn of events, the Giants were within five points and it was a ball game. Sensing the importance of the moment, Nuggets coach Brent Matehaere called a time out and questioned the communication of his side. The pep talk worked for the last 90 seconds as they scored seven of the last nine points of the quarter to lead 78-68 at the final break.

The teams traded blows early in the final term, but once the Nuggets got going thanks to a Ngatai triple with six minutes remaining, they had control. Scoring 22 of the last 32 points, it was party time for the undefeated side as their 17-5 run in the middle of the term from that Ngatai triple ended any doubt about the winner of the contest. For the last few minutes the Nuggets starters were on the best enjoying the show as the bench players went to work padding some of their stats and working hard both defensively and offensively to send a message to the rest of the competition.

Whilst Ngatai was the star, the Nuggets had a huge amount of contributors, with Hunt (19 points, two rebounds) and Keil (11 points, four rebounds) impressing from the starting line-up. Off the bench, it was Aicheson (13 points, two rebounds) and Rodger (11 points, two assists and two steals) who scored a fair chunk of the points. The likes of Darcy Knox (eight points, six rebounds, five assists and two steals) and teenage wrecking ball, Akiva McBirney-Griffin – who claimed as many bodies on the court as he did points – played strong roles across the game.

For the Giants, Trathen (21 points, seven rebounds) and Ingham (17 points, eight rebounds) did not really add too much to their first half domination, with Bensemann’s nine points, and Aiolupotea and Lovell’s eight each the next highest for the side. Lovell also finished with seven rebounds and three assists, but it was the team turnovers that cost the Giants with 22 to 12, and whilst they had a plus six in rebounds, were minus eight in assists.

Sunday could not come fast enough for Giants fans who will welcome back Vukona with open arms. The side has been gallant without him and the other injured stars, but did not have enough class to really run out four quarters. For the Nuggets, they rest up for the week and have certainly earned it, heading 2-0 to start their 2020 campaign.

NZNBL Player Draft: Team-by-Team picks

YESTERDAY the 2020 Sal’s National Basketball League (NBL) Player Draft was run and done with the 84 players who will take part in this year’s New Zealand NBL selected. Otago Nuggets made history being the first team to read out a drafted selection, taking Jordan Ngatai. The first five rounds were completed within an hour and the rest completed a couple of hours later.

With the lists set, now teams could go to the Trade Table over the next few days, concluding on Sunday. Given the high volume of pre-selections that could have taken place – only clubs are aware of the pre-selected players – there is a chance that some clubs were able to bid higher to gain another talent that an opposition player might have wanted. A couple of examples of players to switch allegiances from last season was Mike Karena joining Mika Vukona at the Nelson Giants after being picked up in the second round. The Rams could have picked up Karena after he was a scoring machine for them last year, but had to prioritise Jack Salt and Taylor Britt, allowing the Giants to swoop in and take Vukona. Another example is Manawatu Jets’ co-captain Jackson Stubbins landing at the Franklin Bulls. The Sky Sports coverage at the draft selection mentioned some uncertainty around Stubbins’ availability and work commitments so the Jets chose not to pre-select him. However he could be another the Jets try and get back in the green, black and white.

Following the three-day trade period, teams will finalise their team lists by Sunday night, before players converge on Auckland next Friday, August 19 for the competition to begin the following Tuesday, June 23.

TEAM-BY-TEAM:

Auckland Huskies:

7. Izayah Mauriohooho-Le’afa
8. Tohi Smith-Milner
21. Leon Henry
22. Taine Murray
35. Rashid Al Kareem
36. Tinashe Matambanadzo
49. Ana Haku
50. Johnny Fesolai
63. Marvin Williams-Dunn
64. Jaylen Gerrand
77. Nick Brophy
78. Nathan Wilson

Canterbury Rams:

5. Jack Salt
10. Taylor Britt
19. Joe Cook-Green
24. Alex Talma
33. Sam Smith
38. Toby Gillooly
47. Jack Exeter
52. Tom Cowie
61. Tom Webley
66. Mac Stodart
75. Ben Carlisle-Smith
80. Mason Whittaker

Franklin Bulls: 

6. Dom Kelman-Poto
9. Sam Timmins
20. Everard Bartlett
23. Jackson Stubbins
34. Isaac Davidson
37. Nick Barrow
48. Joel Vaiangina
51. Nikau McCullough
62. Connor Woodbridge
65. Joe Reddish
76. Chris McIntosh
79. Dru-Leo Leusogi-Ape

Manawatu Jets:

3. Tom Vodanovich
12. Hyrum Harris
17. Jayden Bezzant
26. Taane Samuel
31. Nick Fee
40. Haize Walker
45. Tia Tamata-Frost
54. Ashton McQueen
59. Matangirei Hipango
68. Josiah Laracy
73. Tom Power
82. Caleb Mullins

Nelson Giants:

4. Mika Vukona
11. Mike Karena
18. Dane Brooks
25. Tom Ingham
32. Josh Bloxham
39. Nic Trathan
46. Riley Bensemann
53. Tysxun Aiolupotea
60. Zeb Lovell
67. Thane O’Leary
74. Theo Johnson
81. Tommy Gargiulo

Otago Nuggets:

1. Jordan Ngatai
14. Jarrod Kenny
15. Jordan Hunt
28. Kane Keil
29. Josh Aitcheson
42. Benoit Hayman
43. Darcy Knox
56. Richard Roger
57. Sam Aruwa
70. Akiva McBirney-Griffin
71. Jack Andrews
84. Matthew Bardsley

Taranaki Mountainairs:

2. Derone Raukawa (PG/SG, 181/80)
13. Marcel Jones (SF/PF, 203/99)
16. Shane Temara (PF, 206/102)
27. Tai Wynyard (PF/C, 208/116)
30. Mitchell Dance (SF, 193/)
41. Francis Mulvihill
44. Kenneth Tuffin
55. Denhym Brooke
58. Will Heather
69. Oscar Robertson
72. Carlin Davidson
83. Baxter Fenwick