Tag: Izayah Mauriohooho-Le’afa

United bounces back from snapped streak loss to post 11-point win over Phoenix

MELBOURNE United has come from a quarter time deficit, and then a late charge from the South East Melbourne Phoenix to post an 11-point win over their cross-state rivals at John Cain Arena yesterday. With five players hitting double-figure points – three off the bench – and led by Jock Landale picking up a massive double-double, United proved too strong off he boards and shot at a higher clip from the field in the 107-96 victory.

The Phoenix burst out of the blocks with a strong opening term, scoring 31-24 to lead by seven at quarter time. United hit back in the second quarter with a dominant 28-16 quarter to take all the momentum away from the home side and hold a five-point lead at half-time. That momentum continued into the second half, with United having an even more dominant third term to win that quarter by 15, 27-12 and open up an unassailable 20-point advantage at the final chance. The Phoenix did spur on a late comeback, but it was always going to be difficult from there, scoring 23-14 in the final term to get within 11 points, but go down 93-82.

Once United hit the front midway through the second term – after not holding the lead at any stage prior – they did not lose it again, running out the far stronger side. From midway through the third term, the lead did not go into single digits showing the level of control the top of the table had. They dominated most areas with a higher field goal accuracy (47 to 41 per cent), and more rebounds (44-34), blocks (6-0) and second chance points (18-9). The teams both had 13 turnovers, with Phoenix scoring 23 points to nine from turnovers, and the losing side also had more steals (7-6).

Landale finished his night with 27 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks to lead the way, while the experienced Chris Goulding had 11 points, two rebounds and two steals to complement him from the starters. Jo Lual-Acuil aided Landale off the boards with seven rebounds and two blocks to go with his 12 points, while Scotty Hopson (15 points, three rebounds and two assists) and Shea Ili (10 points, two rebounds) also knocked down double-figure points. On return to the NBL as a replacement player for Jack White, veteran David Andersen did not score any points, but had an assist in his three minutes on court.

In defeat, Izayah Mauriohooho-Le’Afa led the point-scoring with 19 points, two assists, two rebounds and three steals, teaming up with fellow New Zealander, Reuben Te Rangi (17 points) in the Phoenix’s loss. Mitch Creek had a dirty night of zero points, and only the four rebounds and three assists, taking just six shots from the field in just 29 minutes and not hitting any. Yannick Wetzell had nine points, nine rebounds and three assists to be solid across the board, while Kyle Adnam (14 points, three rebounds and two assists) and Ben Moore (11 points, eight rebounds) were both busy coming off the bench.

Melbourne United will eye off another clash with Perth Wildcats in a top of the table epic event, hoping to reverse the result from last round when they face off on Thursday night before a rematch with the Phoenix next Sunday. Before then, the Phoenix have two prior games – the New Zealand Breakers on Wednesday and the Cairns Taipans on Friday – both at home.

Picture credit: Darrian Traynor/Getty Images

DJ and McVeigh power through Phoenix, hold off late charge for tenth win

A FLURRY of three-pointers was not enough to bring the South East Melbourne Phoenix back to life last night at John Cain Arena, going down 81-90 to the Adelaide 36ers as the visitors achieved their tenth win of NBL21 remaining within earshot of the top four.

Early on, the 36ers could hardly buy a bucket making just two shots from their opening 13 attempts from the field. Despite the glacial pace that Adelaide conducted themselves on the offensive end in the first, South East Melbourne failed to capitalise on their end to try and pull away early.

Finding 43 per cent of their shots in the initial term compared to Adelaide’s 18 per cent, the Phoenix would only manage to gain a one-point lead at quarter time, 16-15, led by Ben Moore and Cam Gliddon who each had six and five points respectively meaning that Simon Mitchell’s squad needed to up their intensity on the offensive end throughout the remaining three periods.

A strong start to the second by way of the Phoenix saw them stretch out their lead to seven points, but Adelaide would produce a substantial scoring streak to take the lead at the five-minute mark of the term and set the tone leading into the second half as a result. Winning the first two quarters 40-35 where they raised their shooting percentage all the way up to 41 per cent, Daniel Johnson started to impose his will on the opposing side with 12 points and four rebounds.

Conner Henry’s message to his roster was simple over the half time break, pummel the Phoenix down low and push the ball in transition. With this mindset, Adelaide extended their advantage out to double digits and took a firm grasp of the contest at the eve of the fourth quarter.

The uphill climb went from hard to daunting in the remaining 30 seconds of the third as Adelaide’s Daniel Dillon’s two made free throws and Sunday Dech’s layup at the buzzer slated the score line at 68-54, with South East Melbourne’s comeback window getting smaller and smaller as each minute started passing by.

After Dech’s second triple four minutes into the fourth, it capped off a superb 12-4 start for Adelaide putting the visitors up by 22 points with little to no time left on the game clock. The Phoenix were not willing to go down silently after producing a six-point run to cut the margin to 16, forcing Coach Henry to call for a cautious timeout.

Remarkably, back-to-back-to-back threes twice from Gliddon and once from Izayah Mauriohooho-Le’afa extended the Phoenix’s scoring run to 15 and cut the distance between the two sides to just seven points, and with 90 seconds left another layup from Le’afa whittled the margin down to five.

The comeback would end there following a Jack McVeigh knock-down three and a layup by Johnson as Adelaide eventually conquered the Phoenix by nine and reignited the 36ers’ late-season charge for the top four.

Starting below a grim 20 per cent in the opening stanza of last night’s opener, Adelaide did tremendously well to improve their efficiency on the floor up to 46 per cent (two per cent higher than the Phoenix’s 44 per cent). While South East Melbourne might have found their points from a wider variety of methods such as points off the bench and from turnovers, the Sixers earned a 41-36 win in rebounding and a 19-16 win in assists statistically. Adding to that, Adelaide’s poise at the free-throw line was also a primary factor in their win going 23 from 26 attempts at the line.

Who else but Johnson to lead the 36ers in points and rebounds as the potential NBL First-Team nominee settled for 22 points and eight boards. McVeigh also had a ball off the bench with 18 points in 26 minutes of play as well as Brandon Paul amassing 13 points, four rebounds and four dimes, while Dech punched his way to 16 points and seven rebounds. Josh Giddey put his footnote on various facets of the game as per usual, with the youngster contributing nine points, nine assists and five rebounds.

Once again, Mitchell Creek came off the bench to score a team-high 17 points and 14 rebounds, while Gliddon’s four triples saw him good for 14 points and six rebounds. Le’afa finished with 14 points too, whereas Yannick Wetzell’s 13 and Moore’s 11 rounded out the Phoenix’s double-digit producers.

Both squads have tough matchups next week when South East Melbourne host the Sydney Kings in a battle of top tier teams with finals positions up in the air to open Round 15. On the flip side, Adelaide will need to dig deep when they look to accomplish the Melbourne double, facing United next Saturday.

Phoenix continue good form, decimate Kings by 14

THE South East Melbourne Phoenix relied on their shooting to pull off a 98-84 away win against the Sydney Kings, to consolidate their third-placed ladder position and earn their 13th win, as the Kings lost out in another pivotal contest at an all-important stage of the season.

Sydney moved the ball well in the opening minutes, finding baskets early down low and attacking the rim hard. Jordan Hunter, Casper Ware, Jarell Martin and Didi Louzada were all instant scorers helping the hosts gain a solid 8-2 start over the Phoenix.

Mitchell Creek was South East Melbourne’s rock in the first, coming off the bench to account for eight points in the first 10 minutes as both teams went to the initial break with Sydney up 25-21 in front of their home crowd.

Good shooting by way of Izayah Mauriohooho-Le’afa and Cam Gliddon from behind the three-point line saw the Phoenix jump ahead at the midway point of the second quarter. Life then got substantially harder for the Kings when Creek started to heat up, nailing his fourth triple of the contest and having a more productive second quarter than the previous one, entering half time with 20 points and three rebounds, the primary reason for South East Melbourne’s 51-46 lead after two terms. Meanwhile, Hunter led Sydney wth nine points and six rebounds.

Adam Forde’s side failed to make any headway into their deficit for about five minutes after the main break but came to within a point on a couple of occasions. A beautiful move by Ben Moore on Martin sparked a strong finish to the third quarter for the Phoenix, helping the visitors extend their lead out to seven points and leaving the Kings struggling to find solutions to their problems on the defensive end.

South East Melbourne’s transition game was on full display for the crowd at Qudos Bank Arena, earning stops and then punishing their opponents on the other end. A beautiful block on the defensive end and then a monster dunk by Yannick Wetzell aided the Phoenix’s margin to double digits.

Not going down without a fight, Ware started to take matters into his own hands. The Kings then whittled the margin down to five points with just over three minutes left on the clock, however, another Moore And-One undermined a possible comeback effort by Sydney.

A Kyle Adnam three with just over two minutes remaining found its mark and the Phoenix could now coast their way to the final buzzer eventually running out 14-point winners in Sunday’s opener.

Shooting at an especially high 51 per cent from the field, the Phoenix picked their shots well and made sure they counted while Sydney’s sat at a solid 43 per cent. While the Kings won the rebounding battle (42-35) and dominated on second chance points (18-4), the Phoenix excelled in virtually every other category.

Again, a massive factor in his side’s win, Creek was good for 26 points and five rebounds in 30 minutes of court time. Moore conducted one of his elite performances of the season, finishing with 20 points and six rebounds whereas Gliddon was deadly from deep knocking down four triples on his way to 12 points and four rebounds. Wetzell (11 points) and Adnam (10 points and six assists) also contributed double digit totals as the Phoenix shared the spoils on a ridiculously good shooting night.

The combination of Martin (23 points and seven rebounds) and Ware (20 points and two rebounds) was as potent as normal with the pair joining for 43 points. Meanwhile, both Hunter and Shaun Bruce did their best to add to the team’s efforts with 11 points apiece, but the loss of Dejan Vasiljevic during the previous game took its toll on the Kings.

It will not be long until these two sides meet again with the Kings to host the Phoenix once again on Thursday night in Round 14, where Sydney can try to make up some lost ground in their uphill climb in the postseason race.

Creek inspired Phoenix win in an overtime thriller

MISSING a number of crucial cogs, South East Melbourne Phoenix starred in overtime, taking down top of the table Melbourne United last night stealing a five-point win (97-92). The Melbourne Throwdown lived up to the hype, with the two sides leaving no stone unturned, fighting tooth and nail to edge each other out of the contest. But in the end it was the grit and determination of the Phoenix that secured them the win, while handing Melbourne United their second straight loss.

Undermanned with only six rostered players available, given Keifer Sykes, Dane Pineau, Adam Gibson, Kendall Stephens and new signing Ryan Broekhoff were unavailable, the Phoenix dug deep to lead for majority of the game and withstand everything United threw at them. Both sides came out with a point to prove and that was evident in the opening term of play as they put up a number of shots to keep the scoreboard ticking over. However it was the Phoenix that made United pay, posting 29 points to 24 taking a handy five point lead into the first change. Keeping that momentum flowing in the second term, South East Melbourne added to their tally with Mitch Creek impressing in all facets of the game to shoulder the load and establish a handy eight-point lead.

With a lot to play for in the third quarter, Melbourne started to kick into gear with some of their familiar names such as Jock Landale finding their rhythm while star import Yudai Baba got going. But it was not enough to worry the opposition who relied on the likes of Creek to steer the ship and provide that calming and composed element to the squad. Although United won the quarter 21 to 20 thanks to their increased offensive efforts they still faced a six point deficit heading into the final change.

Playing with more momentum and conviction across the court, United started to take advantage of the Phoenix’s tired legs. Mounting a comeback, United could smell blood, pressuring the Phoenix at every turn both physically and on the scoreboard to eventually take the lead at the three minute mark. Melbourne steadily added to their lead pushing out to as much as four points ahead before the Phoenix fought back through the hands of Creek who was having a game to remember. As the clock ticked down the momentum shifted between the two sides as they wrestled for any form of ascendancy once again drawing level with just over a minute to play before scoring dried up and they were stuck at 84 points apiece.

Cue overtime. Landale landed the first blow but from then on it turned into one way traffic as the Phoenix shifted up a gear determined not to let the win slip through their fingers. Their overall attack and intensity increased with Reuben Te Rangi stepping up to the plate to well and truly deliver while Melbourne simply could not compete falling victim to a Phoenix masterclass. It was an enthralling battle between the two sides, with plenty of heart in your mouth moments and exciting passages of play to keep fans, coaches and players alike guessing which way this match could turn. But in the end it was the Phoenix who walked away with the ‘W’.

Creek dominated in the outing with a season-high 31 points. He also managed 10 rebounds, with eight of them defensive plus three blocks in an all-round stellar performance. Kyle Adnam continued to impress boasting 18 points, two rebounds and eight assists while Te Rangi proved his worth with 12 points, eight rebounds and two assists. New Zealander Izayah Mauriohooho-Le Afa plied his trade in the win posting nine points as Ben Moore also had an influence on the game through his 10 points, eight rebounds and two blocks.

The usual suspects in Landale and Chris Goulding impressed for Melbourne United with the pair registering 22 points apiece. Landale managed seven rebounds, three steals and five blocks to accompany his 22 points while Goulding collected two steals and a rebound. Mitch McCarron provided a handy option producing 12 points, seven rebounds all of which were defensive and five assists. Jo Lual-Acuil just fell short of a double-double with nine rebounds and 10 points to his name as Baba and Shea Ili posted seven points apiece.

No Sykes, no problem as Phoenix hold firm around top of the table

A SUNDAY double-header to end round seven action kicked off with the South East Melbourne Phoenix meeting and beating the Illawarra Hawks for the second time this season, 93-76. Two of the three teams in the league that average more than 90 points per game were both coming off tough losses and were looking to bounce back to solidify their place around the top of the table.

With stringent and physical defence from the Phoenix handing the Hawks their first season loss in their first matchup, the key difference this time was the absence of star import Keifer Sykes who is carrying an ankle injury. He joined the already sidelined Adam Gibson and Dane Pineau, as well as the recently signed Ryan Broekhoff who is still in quarantine. Kyle Adnam stepped up in his absence as the Phoenix again restricted the Hawks to their lowest score the season and served them their biggest loss.

The Phoenix picked up where they left off from their last matchup and were intense on both ends of the floor from the outset. Adnam and Cam Gliddon led the charge early with tidy distribution and shot making being key areas that gave the Phoenix an early lead which they did not squander.

While their intensity was clearly superior early, South East Melbourne was also able to take the Hawks off the dribble and either straight to the rim to score or find passes inside to big men like Yannick Wetzell and Ben Moore.

With Sykes’ injury forcing the Phoenix to make rotation changes, star of the New Zealand National Basketball League Izayah Mauriohooho-Le’afa was given extra minutes having played just four minutes this season. He made an immediate impact with his known defensive abilities, forcing an eight-second backcourt violation in his first possession on the court.

The offensive stalwarts for the Hawks in Justinian Jessup and Tyler Harvey struggled for much of the game, with air balls for each of them highlighting their struggles. The pair also struggled in their last matchup, as coach Simon Mitchell made a point of reminding his players to always know where they are and force them right.

The quarter-time score read 25-13 for the Phoenix as they shot the ball 19 per cent better and had six more assists, areas they would continue to dominate for the rest of the game.

Brian Goorjian pleaded for more physicality from his outfit, and despite a couple of easy baskets and poorly missed shots, an and-one from Andrew Ogilvy, and triples from Deng Deng, Deng Adel, and Harvey combined with some intensity on the defensive end saw them back within six points.

Losing the offensive fluidity they enjoyed to this point, the Phoenix sought to get to the free throw line to halt the Hawks’ momentum and did so to great effect. They had 17 attempts to Illawarra’s five.

The Hawks, however, continued to shoot well from deep and if it were not for some Mitch Creek magic down the stretch, the Hawks would not have been trailing 45-37 at the main break.

Although the margin was only eight points, South East Melbourne still felt in control and they proved it with a big 28-18 third quarter to give them an 18-point lead heading into the final quarter. An up and down start to the term would eventually be dominated through the Phoenix’s sharp ball movement, and offensive glass prowess headed by Moore.

The margin was extended to 20 points after an Adnam floater was followed by his tenth assist on the night.

The final quarter comeback would have needed to have been the biggest of the season, but it was not to be as the rest of the game ebbed and flowed. Two Cameron Bairstow triples gave the Hawks life, but the Phoenix pushed through and kept the Hawks to their lowest score of the season again winning 93-76.

The Phoenix enjoyed another huge NBL Cup outing from Creek who had 25 points, six rebounds, and four assists on 58 per cent shooting. Gliddon put up 19 points, to go with five rebounds and three assists, while Adnam fell just short of a double-double with nine points, 11 assists, and four steals. Moore also enjoyed one of his best games this season with 22 points and five rebounds off the bench, which included 12 of 12 from the free throw line.

South East Melbourne has 23 more free throw attempts in the game and managed to force Illawarra into 16 turnovers. This disciplined defenced managed to hold the Hawks’ key players in Jessup (seven points) and Harvey (14 points) quieter than usual. Justin Simon (13 points, six rebounds) was the only other Illawarra player to score more than 10 points.

The Phoenix will look to carry this momentum into their Wednesday matchup with Perth, while the Hawks will look to bounce back on Thursday against the 36ers.

NBL21 season previews: South East Melbourne Phoenix

THE National Basketball League (NBL)’s newest club, South East Melbourne Phoenix might have had a challenging first season after a strong start – finishing eighth with a 9-19 record – but were able to show at their best they could compete with the top sides. Now a year on, the Phoenix are better prepared as a unit, and aside from some retirements, have effectively kept a large portion of their list together, as well as brought in some exciting developing talents over the off-season.

Amongst some of the earliest retirement announcements, Tai Wesley and Ben Madgen both decided to call it quits at age 34 and 35 respectively, having been a part of the Phoenix’s foundation season. The announcements came following the re-signing of import Kendall Stephens, providing an established option for Madgen’s departure. Almost immediately following the back-to-back retirements, Cameron Gliddon signed on for a fresh start with the Phoenix.

The Brisbane Bullets guard gave the Phoenix an immediate starter in the back court, having been released from his contract with the Bullets a year early after not having the impact he could have late in his career. The 31-year-old has plenty of talent and was a Commonwealth Games gold medallist, so will be hoping to rekindle his form with the Phoenix.

Whilst not much basketball might have been going on in the world during the COVID-19 pandemic, New Zealand took centre stage with the NZNBL taking place. It helped hand Reuben Te Rangi and Izayah Mauriohooho-Le’afa contracts, the former on a full contract, the latter as a development player. They were joined by another Kiwi in Yannick Wetzell, who signed on then exercised his out clause to play in Germany, only to re-join the Phoenix after passport complications.

A couple of later import recruitments occurred late in the off-season, with Ben Moore and Keifer Sykes signing on. The American duo have plenty of experience across the globe, with Sykes playing in Turkey, Italy, China and Greece, while Moore also played in Turkey alongside a long stint in the G League having had a one-time two-way contract with Indiana Pacers back in 2018. Sykes was once touted by Forbes as the “James Harden of China” following a ridiculous 50-point game and averaging 34.6 points in that league.

Sykes brought the intrigue with his signing, and will replace outgoing scoring machine John Roberson who lit up the league on a number of occasions. American duo Terry Armstrong and Devondrick Walker also departed, while the re-signings were just as big as the signings. Mitch Creek remained on board in search of another chance in the NBA, with the forward one of the most dominant players in the league.

Alongside Creek, Kyle Adnam, Adam Gibson and Dane Pineau also remained at the club, to create a stable core of players from last season. Dan Trist headed to New Zealand to play with the Breakers, but the inclusion of Gliddon along with Te Rangi and Tristan Forsyth as a development player meant the depth in the front court is not a concern.

Overall the Phoenix look stronger than last season, which should equate in a better season and move up the NBL21 ladder.

Picture credit: AAP

Draft Central’s Top 20 Players of the 2020 Sal’s NBL Showdown: Complete List

HERE is our complete list of the Top 20 Player of the 2020 Sal’s NBL Showdown. Click on any of the links below to view the corresponding article:

#1 Tom Vodanovich (Jets)

#2 Derone Raukawa (Airs)

#3 Jordan Ngatai (Nuggets)

#4 Marcel Jones (Airs)

#5 Hyrum Harris (Jets)

#6 Izayah Mauriohooho Le’afa (Huskies)

#7 Taylor Britt (Rams)

#8 Jordan Hunt (Nuggets)

#9 Dom Kelman-Poto (Bulls)

#10 Jarrod Kenny (Nuggets)

#11 Leon Henry (Huskies)

#12 Taane Samuel (Jets)

#13 Tohi Smith-Milner (Huskies)

#14 Jayden Bezzant (Jets)

#15 Sam Timmins (Bulls)

#16 Isaac Davidson (Bulls)

#17 Mike Karena (Giants)

#18 Shane Temara (Airs)

#19 Kane Keil (Nuggets)

#20 Taine Murray (Huskies)

2020 Sal’s NBL Top 20 Players: #5 – Hyrum Harris (Manawatu Jets)

IN our newest countdown series wrapping up the 2020 Sal’s National Basketball League (NBL) Showdown, we look at our top 20 players that took to the court this year. While it was an incredibly difficult list to create, we have had a mix of pure domination, defensive efforts and eye-catchers to form this list.

#5 HYRUM HARRIS

When looking at players lighting up the court and the stats sheet across the board, it is hard to look past Manawatu Jets’ Harris. The talented big man missed a few games due to injury, but would have been right up in conversation for All-Star Five selection, and was among the very best defensive players in the competition. Whilst he might not have shared in the Defensive Player of the Year award with Jarrod Kenny and Izayah Mauriohooho Lea’afa, some of the numbers Harris put up week-in, week-out was ridiculous.

He finished the 2020 Sal’s NBL season ranked first in the league for steals (2.7) and second for both rebounds (11.6) and assists (6.4), whilst averaging the sixth most minutes in the competition, with 31.5. While he was not as prolific scorer as some others, he still managed to finish equal 15th in the league with almost 15 points per game, making it a double-double average. Not only did he carry that average throughout the season, but he put up some of the biggest stat lines that the competition saw all season, picking up a rare triple double, but twice looking at the unheard of quadruple-double with at least seven assists and steals twice when picking up double-digit points and rebounds.

When discussing his best games, his sole triple-double effort against Taranaki Mountainairs with 24 points – 67 per cent from the field – 10 rebounds and 10 assists has to come into the picture. Though it would also be remiss not to mention what could well be his best effort in the semi-finals against the Airs again, putting up an unbelievable 17 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists, seven steals and only three turnovers. His other game close to a quadruple-double was against Auckland Huskies with 16 points, 12 rebounds, seven assists and eight steals, though with six turnovers.

With stats like that, it is hard to find too many faults, though his shooting from range and the charity stripe remain as areas of improvement. Other than that, Harris had an incredible season, and factoring in his limited minutes showing in the qualifying final – where he scored three points from 18 minutes – he could have averaged even more. In the grand final, Harris finished with 19 points, 12 rebounds, four assists and three steals in a prominent shooting display including 80 per cent from two-point range. Overall it was a remarkable year and he kicks off our top five players.

STATS:

Points: 14.9
Rebounds: 11.6
Assists: 6.4
Steals: 2.7
FG%: 54.2
2P%: 60.6
3P%: 21.1
FT%: 51.6
Minutes: 31.5

2020 Sal’s NBL Top 20 Players: #13 – Tohi Smith-Milner (Auckland Huskies)

IN our newest countdown series wrapping up the 2020 Sal’s National Basketball League (NBL) Showdown, we look at our top 20 players that took to the court this year. While it was an incredibly difficult list to create, we have had a mix of pure domination, defensive efforts and eye-catchers to form this list.

#13 TOHI SMITH-MILNER

Making our way into the second week of our countdown, Auckland Huskies big man, Tohi Smith-Milner comes in at number 13. It would have been no surprise to see the Melbourne United forward named on this list if you had predicted it at the start of the season, such is his even balance between scoring and rebounding. Playing just 25 minutes a match, he contributed around 16 points and eight rebounds, while dishing off a couple of assists as well.

Smith-Milner is ranked 14th overall in terms of points, and of the top 15, has the second lowest minutes on court. More impressively, the Huskies rebounder finished the season ranked sixth in the competition, and had the third lowest minutes of the top 15. Smith-Milner’s ability to drain jump shots from beyond the arc – averaging 1.6 makes per game – separated him from a number of big men, and really helped aide the likes of Izayah Mauriohooho Le’Afa and Leon Henry when it came to the scoring front.

Along with Henry, he also provided great experience and basketball IQ with a number of younger players running around including Taine Murray, and provided the bigger body required to take the blows when driving to the basket. His two-point and free throw shooting could be higher, but his presence at both ends was what really had an impact for the Auckland-based side.

Smith-Milner picked up four double-doubles during the season, but his undoubted best game came against Taranaki Mountainairs on July 16 when he finished with a remarkable 22 points and 20 rebounds. Critically, he had six offensive rebounds, and dropped three of six attempts from beyond the arc, as well as three assists, two blocks and one steal. It was a complete game by Smith-Milner who followed on from his 22-point and 11-rebound game against Franklin Bulls two days prior.

The 22-point achievement was his top score for the season, achieving it a third time – another double-double – against Canterbury Rams in the final week of the regular season – where he had another 12 rebounds, three assists, two blocks and a steal. He only dipped below 13 points on three occasions, showing remarkable consistency and earning his spot on this list. Now he heads back to the Australian NBL where he will compete for Melbourne United in the 2020/21 season.

STATS:

Points: 15.5
Rebounds: 7.7
Assists: 1.9
Steals: 0.9
FG%: 43.6
2P%: 46
3P%: 38.7
FT%: 69.2
Minutes: 25.9

Draft Central’s NZNBL Top 10 Moments: #2 – Huskies and Airs go the distance in OT

IF you just so happened to tune in to the opener of the NZNBL’s action on Thursday July 16 between the Auckland Huskies and the Taranaki Mountainairs, then you were privy to arguably the most thrilling contest of the entire campaign and number two amongst Draft Central’s Top 10 Moments.

For the full match report between the Huskies and the Airs – Click HERE

Kevin Braswell’s side was certainly looking for nothing less than a win against an old foe in Taranaki, whom they upset in their first encounter to really shake up the league standings. A win for the Huskies once more, would bring their win-loss record back up to .500 for the first time since the start of the season.

Braswell noted pre-game the need to neutralise Taranaki’s two main threats, the one-two punch combination of Derone Raukawa and Marcel Jones, as well as the supplementary damage the Airs’ role-players could also inflict.

Nevertheless, it was a different combination that commenced business between the two sides, as Tohi Smith-Milner and Leon Henry both began what was a very impressive outing. Shortly after, Raukawa and Jones started off their nights with their initial baskets and the game was underway.

In a fast-paced three minutes that saw 18 points get put up on the board in that time, both teams got off to good shooting starts. Notably, Raukawa had his hands full with the fantastic play of Auckland’s point-guard Izayah Mauriohooho-Le’Afa. Despite this, Raukawa still managed to collect 11 of the Huskies’ first 18 points, but following a late triple from Mauriohooho-Le’Afa bringing his total to 10, Auckland obtained a slim one-point lead at the end of the first period.

The second quarter took on a more casual persona, as scoring started to come at a higher premium. But a three pointer from Jones and six straight points from Shane Temara allowed Taranaki to have a firm grip on the game for the first time in the encounter and force a Huskies timeout. Coming out of the huddle, the Huskies quickly dismantled their deficit by capping off a lovely 9-0 run with a couple minutes to go in the first half. But again, Jones led another charge handing back the lead to the Airs going into half time, 47-44.

Given that Auckland had failed to complete their main objective in slowing down Raukawa and Jones, the Huskies looked to their long-range shooters to try and gain the upper hand in the second half. First up to the plate in this respect was rising youngster in Taine Murray who did not make his presence known until the closing stages of the third quarter and made Taranaki pay for their hand-down defence as a result. Coupled with Smith-Milner’s rebounding, the Huskies oozed confidence as they led by seven with a quarter to go.

Reuben Fitzgerald, who had proven himself a prominent participant in the opening three quarters, made his impact on the game late in the fourth, as both sides jostled for the driver’s seat, converting on an and-one. As both teams arrived at the final seconds of regulation tied at 83-83 apiece, the Airs found themselves with a chance to win it at the death. But after two missed attempts by Jones off of two second chance points opportunities and a missed buzzer-beater attempt from Raukawa outside the arc, fans had to wait five minutes longer, as the game went into overtime, the second time for the Airs.

The Airs struck first with a nicely facilitated layup and three by Jones, which was further compounded by a follow-up three from Raukawa, putting Taranaki up by as much as six. But the Huskies did not wither away, as Smith-Milner and Mauriohooho-Le’Afa brought the game back to a single possession ball game and after Murray converted on a reverse hanging layup with just over a minute and a half to play, the match was once again at a stalemate.

Free throws became the deciding factor in the dramatic end to the game, as numerous fouls from the Airs put Auckland into the bonus. In the final ten seconds of overtime, the Huskies shot six free throws converting on five of them, to put away a resilient Doug Courtney led squad and topple the top-of-the-table Airs for a second time in a row in an overtime thriller, 102-99.

Even though Jones (36 points and 17 rebounds) and Raukawa (28 points and eight assists) proved their dominance once again, Temara tried his best to help the duo get their side over the line with 15 points and eight boards of his own, but Auckland’s bigs were too productive to let that happen.

For the Huskies, Smith-Milner had himself a ball, as he amassed one of the few 20-20 games of the season (22 points and 21 rebounds), whereas Murray led the way in scoring with 28 points alongside six threes. Mauriohooho-Le’Afa and Henry also proved instrumental collecting 21 points apiece, summing up a terrific performance from Auckland’s core.

In a game that had all the trademarks of a classic, it sits perfectly as a top two moment on Draft Central’s list, and perhaps the best game in all respects throughout the entire 2020 NZNBL season. One to remember.