Tag: Izayah Mauriohooho-Le’afa

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.

Draft Central’s NZNBL Top 10 Moments: #6 – Auckland’s historic start against Nelson

THROUGHOUT the month and a half of basketball that we witnessed in the New Zealand National Basketball League (NZNBL), there were an abundance of impressive quarters. However, there is one that stands out unmistakably.

Auckland’s opening quarter against the Nelson Giants sits at the pinnacle of the season’s most productive and efficient periods, and as a result waltzes into number six on Draft Central’s Top 10 Moments.

For the full Match Report of the Huskies’ clash against the Giants– Click HERE

In their previous matchup, the Huskies held off a persistent Taranaki Mountainairs side and looked to carry momentum over into their next contest. Additionally, Auckland was also on the cusp of securing their third win in a row, which when coupled with a late charge to finish high in the postseason rankings, Kevin Braswell’s side had plenty of motivators before the opening tip-off on July 19.

As Joshua Leger won the tip, it marked the only time that the Giants would be ahead for the entirety of the game, as Dane Brooks turned the ball over, and Leon Henry threw the alley-oop to Tohi Smith-Milner for the first bucket of the game. Smith-Milner’s finish signified the start of arguably one of the best starts in NZNBL history.

Reuben Fitzgerald’s three kept the ball rolling as it were, while Smith-Milner and Henry continued to pile it on down low in the post. It was not until the fourth minute of the first quarter that a fourth player got on the scoreboard for Auckland, as Izayah Mauriohooho Le’afa converted on a fast-break layup for the Huskies’ seventh made field goal in as many attempts.

Fitzgerald kept his foot on the pedal, whereas Smith-Milner started to find his range, knocking down his first triple of the game thus extending his side’s lead to 12. Leading comfortably 21-9 before the midway point of the term, it was a temptation for the Huskies to start and rest on their laurels. But Auckland did the exact opposite, as the four-man combo of Henry, Fitzgerald, Le’afa and Smith-Milner would account for their team’s opening 34 points while successfully shooting 14 straight shots to begin the game.

A fifth scorer would eventually get their name on the scorecard, with Marvin Williams-Dunn knocking down the Huskies’ 15th straight. Whereas Le’afa and Fitzgerald capped off a flurry of six threes concluding an 18-3 run, leading the Giants 43-12. Fitzgerald’s second shot from deep marked Auckland’s seventeenth straight field goal to start the game.

Finally, with 80 seconds left, Nate Wilson’s three-point attempt would not find its target, ending the season’s most impressive shooting display, and one of the best starts to a single game in the League’s history. Nevertheless, the miss did not seem to sway the 19-year-old, as just 30 seconds later he dunked the ball with two hands to end proceedings in the first.

A lone miss by Anamata Haku brought the Huskies’ shooting average down to 90 per cent (18/20), but no one was too bothered, as Auckland went into the first intermission leading 45-12, essentially winning the game before the start of the second term had even begun.

In a slow paced remaining three quarters, Auckland would walk away with the 96-67 win as a result of the opening period and string together a nice three-game winning streak in the late portion of the season.

Despite their field goal percentage dropping down to 52 per cent by the final buzzer, the Huskies would shoot a productive 46 per cent from deep, nailing 13 triples compared to Nelson’s six.

While the majority of their points came in the first quarter, the combo of Le’afa, Henry, Fitzgerald and Smith-Milner made up most of their team’s total over four periods of play. For Smith-Milner, he led the way with 20 points off of 80 per cent shooting, meanwhile Fitzgerald followed up with 14 of his own. Le’afa proved himself as the squad’s facilitator, producing 12 points alongside six assists and four rebounds, as Henry accumulated a game-high seven rebounds next to 13 points.

Even though there were some mistakes in the second, third and fourth quarters during their clash against the Giants, the Huskies could not be faulted for a single thing in the first. Opening up the second term with a 33-point lead, Auckland never looked back and after witnessing such a dominant stretch of basketball, how could you not see this moment appear in Draft Central’s Top 10.

2020 Sal’s NBL review: Otago Nuggets

OTAGO NUGGETS are next up in our team-by-team review series of the 2020 Sal’s National Basketball League (NBL) Showdown. The Nuggets had a season to remember returning to the competition, finishing on top of the table at the end of the 14-game regular season and then going all the way to premiership glory. We take a look at their season.

Played: 17
Won: 12
Lost: 5

KEY STATS:

Points: 92.6 (3rd)
Rebounds: 40.6 (6th)
Assists: 20.2 (1st)
Steals: 9.2 (2nd)
Blocks: 3.0 (4th)
FG%: 47.4 (2nd)

BEST WIN: defeated Manawatu Jets by 2 points

What else could it be? The match that guaranteed Otago Nuggets premiership glory. It was far from a straightforward win though despite beating the Jets on the previous four occasions. In the tightest match between the teams, fitting for a grand final, the Nuggets had to fight back from a four-point deficit at half-time to cut it to three by the final break and run over the top of their opponents thanks to a 27-22 final term to win, 79-77. Jordan Hunt topscored with 21 points, seven rebounds, two assists and two steals, as five players recorded six or more rebounds. Josh Aitcheson (16 points, six rebounds, three assists and two blocks), Kane Keil (15 points, seven rebounds, three assists and one block), Jordan Ngatai (11 points, six rebounds, four assists and two blocks) and Jarrod Kenny (six points, seven rebounds, eight assists and two steals) were phenomenal on a memorable night for the organisation.

WORST LOSS: lost to Auckland Huskies by 12 points

While the final day of the regular season was by far the worst loss in terms of points, considering the obvious man management factor and that top spot was secured, you have to wind back to when the Nuggets went down to the Huskies on July 7 in a 12-point defeat. Trailing at every break and losing each quarter – albeit by no more than five points, it was just one of those games where the opposition team was better on the night. The usually accurate Nuggets were simply terrible from the field, shooting at just 32.4 per cent, including Kenny (30 per cent), Ngatai (22.7) and Richie Rodger (22.2). Meanwhile the Huskies were led by Taine Murray (19 points, five rebounds and three assists), Tohi Smith-Milner (17 points, 10 rebounds), Izayah Mauriohooho Le’afa (12 points, six rebounds, three assists and six steals) and Leon Henry (11 points, 14 rebounds, four assists and two steals) on a big night for them.

TOP PLAYERS:

Jordan Hunt 19.6 points, 6.1 rebounds 0.9 assists, 1.0 steals
Jordan Ngatai 18.2 points, 5.7 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 1.5 steals
Kane Keil 11.7 points, 5.4 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.0 steals
Jarrod Kenny 11.2 points, 3.9 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 1.4 steals
Josh Aitcheson 10.9 points, 4.8 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.3 steals

WHAT WENT RIGHT?

Everything if you look back in hindsight. That is not to say they did not have their challenges, but in terms of their list, they predominantly had their best team out on the court each night, they followed team structures and just did all the team things perfectly. From the start to finish of the season, they were consistently in the top few teams and deserved the title by season’s end. While not many top teams end up following through after winning the minor premiership, the Nuggets did just that, and can celebrate their first ever franchise title.

WHAT WENT WRONG?

In the counter opposite to the above, nothing that could be considered serious enough to derail a season. They can look back and be proud of their year, because aside from the odd hiccup here or there in terms of losses, they legitimately were one of the contenders all season.

SUMMARY

Otago Nuggets were the premier team of the 2020 Sal’s NBL and were well coached by Brent Matehaere to lead his team to a memorable title. They had first pick in the Player Draft, and Ngatai paid them back in spades, with their second choice who slid in Kenny, also paying dividends. What a year to remember for the Nuggets.

Draft Central’s NZNBL Top 10 Moments: #9 – Webley’s third quarter helps Rams charge into Semis

LOCKING up the ninth-best moment of this year’s NZNBL season, comes from the lowest performing team in the competition’s regular season. The Canterbury Rams’ stellar third quarter against the Auckland Huskies in their Elimination Final encounter sits proudly amongst Draft Central’s list. Thomas Webley and his teammates produced one of the most efficient quarters throughout the entire season, capping off a historic postseason run.

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

In a season that was hindered by injury and bad luck, Mick Downer and his coaching staff at the Canterbury Rams faced numerous challenges throughout the NZNBL regular season.

Nevertheless, in a season that saw the Rams finish bottom of the table with a record of four wins and 10 losses, how Canterbury finished the season, no one could have expected, with the Rams’ miraculous finals run culminated in one quarter of play from a determined squad with everything to prove.

Putting some context behind the Rams’ third quarter in the second round of Finals week against the Huskies, Canterbury began the season in as good of form as anyone within the league.

Exploding out of the gates with three wins in three games, Canterbury sat at the top of the standings to begin their campaign. But a flurry of injuries, and a squad restructure as a result, destabilised the side’s rotations and sent them cascading down a miserable path of defeat for the remainder of the season.

The Rams endured one of the longest losing streaks in New Zealand basketball history, coming out second best in 10 straight games between their fourth and final clashes of the season. However, momentum eventually found the red and black just in time for the postseason.

Managing to topple the mid-tabled Franklin Bulls in the final game of the regular season ending their double-digit winless run, it put them in good stead for their opening elimination game against fellow bottom-dweller, the Nelson Giants.

After strong second and third quarters from the Rams, as well as surviving a late charge from the Giants in the fourth period, the Rams took the first step in redeeming themselves throughout the finals.

The next day, it was time for the Rams to really test their mettle, as they now stared down a Huskies outfit that was hot off a convincing win against the Manawatu Jets to conclude their season.

Finishing in the third seed on the standings, it was no surprise that Auckland were the heavy-handed favourites heading into their matchup against the Rams. While Canterbury’s bigs had the monstrous task of slowing down the likes of Tohi Smith-Milner and Leon Henry.

As was expected of the underdogs during the first two quarters, the Rams found themselves down by six at the end of the first half. Despite the deficit, Downer urged his side to work one possession at a time and to play a selfless brand of basketball. Following the huddle, the message rang true for Webley in the third, putting on one of the season’s most impressive periods of play for the entire season.

To begin the third quarter, Webley got the ball rolling immediately, kick-starting the term with a slam dunk and following up with two more baskets to get his side within a basket two minutes in.

Even though Webley carried his side for the majority of the third, much needed assistance came in bunches from the side’s captain and shooting marksman, Taylor Britt and Samuel Smith. Before anyone was able to blink, Canterbury surprisingly found themselves five points ahead a minute later after Webley’s fourth basket of the quarter.

Both sides traded buckets over the course of the next couple of minutes, as Quintin Bailey, Toby Gillooly and Reuben Te Rangi made their presence felt for the Rams. Meanwhile, Henry and Auckland guard Izayah Mauriohooho-Le’Afa (finished his night with 39 points, six rebounds and five assists) found their range with each of them knocking down a triple to keep the Huskies within arm’s reach, as the score stood 55-54 with four minutes and 49 seconds remaining in the third.

However, after Gillooly’s three with four and a half minutes left in the term, Webley and his teammates pulled together their best stretch of play for the entire season all the way to the final break.

A 20-8 scoring run concluded a 39-point third quarter for the lowest ranked team in the NZNBL, as Canterbury miraculously produced a 75-62 lead with a quarter to be played. In turn it flipped the contest on its head and set the Rams on their way to a semi-final matchup with the would-be champion Otago Nuggets, as Canterbury held on for the 98-84 upset win.

While many of Webley’s teammates contributed to the comeback third quarter, it was the 18-year-old that led the charge from the front. The 208cm-tall center accounted for 14 of his 21 total points in the third term. He also went on to snag seven rebounds and shoot an unwavering 69 per cent from the field, as he helped his side to a semi-final spot they were not meant to have.

Despite losing to the Nuggets by 18 points in the Semi Final a day later, the third quarter for the Rams in their contest against the Huskies stands firm as one of the most exhilarating and dominant performances for a team throughout the entire competition this year.

2020 Sal’s NBL team review: Auckland Huskies

AUCKLAND HUSKIES are next up in our team-by-team review series of the 2020 Sal’s National Basketball League (NBL) Showdown. The Bulls finished a strong fourth on the ladder at the end of the regular season, then went down to a red-hot Thomas Webley-inspired Canterbury Rams in the elimination final. We take a look at their season.

Played: 15
Won: 8
Lost: 7

KEY STATS:

Points: 86.1 (5th)
Rebounds: 45.0 (2nd)
Assists: 17.0 (4th)
Steals: 9.3 (1st)
Blocks: 2.1 (3rd)
FG%: 40.5 (7th)

BEST WIN: defeated Nelson Giants by 29 points

Who could forget the first quarter of the Huskies during their impressive victory over the Nelson Giants. It was the only game where it was over by quarter time as Auckland piled on 45 points to 12, and from there did enough to secure the 96-67 victory. It was not just the total points that was impressive, but their first 17 shots dropped, going at 100 per cent to start the game in what was a remarkable effort from the Huskies. Tohi Smith-Milner dropped 20 points at 80 per cent, Leon Henry had 13 points at 71.4 per cent, as well as seven rebounds and four assists, whilst both Izayah Mauriohooho Le’Afa and Reuben Fitzgerald ran at greater than 60 per cent for double-figure points.

WORST LOSS: lost to Canterbury Rams by 14 points

The loss itself was not so bad, but more so the stakes on offer as Auckland went down to Canterbury by 14 points in the elimination final. The most frustrating aspect for the Huskies was the third term of the Rams, led by Webley, as the higher ranked side had been in firm control at each break, despite only being six ahead on the scoresheet. A 39-20 third quarter in favour of the Rams blew the game open and the Huskies went down 98-84. Webley finished with 21 points at 69.2 per cent, as well as seven rebounds. For the Huskies Mauriohooho Le’Afa went to town in a remarkable effort with 39 points, six rebounds, five assists and two steals, while Henry had 18 points, eight rebounds, four assists and six blocks.

TOP PLAYERS:

Izayah Mauriohooho Le’Afa 20.7 points, 4.5 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 2.5 steals
Taine Murray 17.5 points, 3.3 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 0.9 steals
Tohi Smith-Milner 15.5 points, 7.7 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 0.9 steals
Leon Henry 11.8 points, 10.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.6 steals
Jaylen Gerrand 6.8 points, 1.5 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 0.7 steals

WHAT WENT RIGHT?

The Auckland Huskies took a while to gel, but when they did, they looked might impressive. Taine Murray was superb and really lit it up showing the big future he had, while Mauriohooho Le’Afa’s all-round game and Henry’s defensive work was sensational. They had a good balance of talents across the board with great experience guiding the younger players along the journey, and if the team can stick together next season, they will be one to watch.

WHAT WENT WRONG?

The slower start to the season with inaccuracy being a real problem for the side early days. Once they honed in on their range, the Huskies were slick. Unfortunately just an inspired effort by Webley in the elimination final ended their season, but they can be proud of what they achieved and got to by the end of the regular NZNBL season.

SUMMARY

Auckland Huskies were the slowest out of the blocks in the early stages of the season, as a brand new side took a while to gel together having not had too much experience playing together before. They got back into it and not only became competitive, but were able to really knock off some quality teams along the way. It would have been nice to see them earn a semi-final place after their second half of the season performances, but it was not to be.