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:
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.
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.
#18 SHANE TEMARA
One of the league’s top 10 rebounders, Temara was a crucial third key in the defensive efforts of the Taranaki Mountainairs. While teammate Marcel Jones led the league in rebounds, Temara chipped in with 6.3 per game to rank ninth overall, and still contribute a healthy 12.3 points. The difference he made to the Airs was off the offensive boards, averaging two per game to have the dominant impact up there, whilst Jones was concentrating off the defensive boards.
Temara’s efficiency across the court was a feature of his game, averaging an impressive 57.6 per cent from inside the arc for a total field goal percentage of 51.6 per cent. Given the Airs’ rebounder averaged just the 25 minutes on court, he made it count with a point every two minutes, and a rebound every four.
In season 2020, he had 11 games in double figures and just five in single digits, playing every match of the season. His best shooting game came against Manawatu Jets back on July 5 when he sank 21 points and picked up nine rebounds, with three triples on the night. It had followed up a double-double night from the day before, the first of three for the season two of which came against the Otago Nuggets where he averaged 16 points and 12 rebounds in his two encounters with them.
In his two finals, Temara averaged the 10.5 points and six rebounds, with an off shooting night in the elimination final, but a better night from the field in the semi-final. Crucially Temara was generally a clean player with multiple fouls in just four games. Overall, he enjoyed a really solid season which is why he makes it into our top 20 count.
THERE are only so many coincidences that can occur in any season or competition, but thankfully fans of the NZNBL were able to witness one. This came as the best offence and best defence of the league got to settle their differences in a win or go home Elimination Final. Due to this, Draft Central sees it fitting to place the Taranaki Mountain Airs’ final contest with the Franklin Bulls in the seventh slot of this season’s Top 10 Moments.
For the full match report of the Airs and Bulls Elimination Final – Click HERE
It was during the regular season that both sides displayed their playing styles and strengths. The Airs, who concluded their season with a respectable eight win and six loss record earned the moniker of best offence in the competition. Taranaki maintained a team average of 98.6 points per contest and cracked the 100-point mark on eight different occasions. For Franklin, they earned the opposite title of best defence, due to holding teams to 82.2 points each time out, 4.2 points less than the Otago Nuggets (second in points against).
Prior to their Elimination Final on July 29, the two sides had met three times with the Airs holding the series’ bragging rights two to one. But in their most recent encounter, it was Franklin that came out the clear-cut winners in a dominant 92-65 win. But with a must-win contest to begin, all prior matchups had little to no meaning in what was a seesawing affair between the two clubs with a semi-final spot up for grabs.
Following their All-Star Five presentation, Taranaki’s two leading individuals in Derone Raukawa and Marcel Jones had their confidence brewing in the opening phase, helping their side to a 26-18 lead in the initial 10 minutes of basketball. During that pivotal first term, Doug Courtney employed some defensive tactics of his own, notably setting up a 2-3 zone defence to minimise Franklin’s inside scoring threats. This in turn forced the Bulls to settle for long range shots, which proved ineffective as they made just two from 16 attempts.
Eventually shots started to fall for Franklin, as the game started to even out for both sides. Back-to-back threes from Jackson Stubbins cut the deficit to a single basket, with the Airs holding the three-point lead at the second intermission.
While an And-One from Dominique Kelman-Poto gave the Bulls a brief lead, the continuous scoring output from Jones kept Taranaki’s noses in front for the majority of the game. In addition to this, Jones was grateful to receive the aid on the boards from teammates Tai Wynyard and Shane Temara, who each finished their nights with eight and seven boards respectively. This proved a pivotal statistic in the sequences of the game, as the Airs pushed their lead back up to eight points with a quarter to go.
Good hustle from Isaac Davidson and Everard Bartlett enabled the Bulls to get within four points, but the duo of Raukawa and Jones was put on full display once more. They carried their side over the line on a night where everyone was making their free-throws. The Airs emerged triumphant in a 99-90 slugfest and set up a semi-final date with the Manawatu Jets.
It was a clinic on both ends of the floor for Raukawa (28 points, eight rebounds and eight assists) and Jones (31 points, 10 rebounds and six assists), meanwhile the team’s rebounding and free throw shooting proved to be the difference. A plus-seven on the boards (44-37) and 90 per cent accuracy from the charity strike (18 of 20) put the cherry on the cake as Taranaki fell just a single point short of another 100-point performance.
Despite the emotional loss for Franklin, the Bulls had numerous efforts worthy of praise. Kelman-Poto led the way with his 31-point, 10-rebound and three-steal night, whereas Davidson’s 24 points off of four triples was a major contribution.
On a night that saw offence prevail over defence, it was exciting to see two teams at opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of playing style, go at it in a do-or-die matchup in the postseason. Thus, putting this moment at number seven in the NZNBL’s Top 10.
TARANAKI MOUNTAINAIRS are next up in our team-by-team review series of the 2020 Sal’s National Basketball League (NBL) Showdown. The Airs finished fourth on the ladder and lived up to their billing with a semi-final berth after defeating Franklin Bulls in the elimination final to finish third overall post-finals. We take a look at their season.
Points: 98.6 (1st)
Rebounds: 47.1 (1st)
Assists: 18.3 (2nd)
Steals: 6.6 (7th)
Blocks: 3.4 (1st)
FG%: 48.5 (1st)
BEST WIN: defeated Otago Nuggets by 26 points
In a really season-defining win, Taranaki Mountainairs stormed from seven points down at half-time to piled on a massive 68 points in the second half, whilst restricting the Nuggets to just 35, on the Airs’ way to a big 107-81 victory. Derone Raukawa led the way in scoring with 23 points, four rebounds, six assists and three steals, though Marcel Jones was best-on with a ridiculous 15 points, 18 rebounds, seven assists and two steals. Overshadowed by Jones’ remarkable numbers, Shane Temara still picked up a double-double with 18 points and 11 rebounds, while Francis Mulvilhill (17 points, four rebounds) and Ken Tuffin (15 points, five rebounds) also had accurate shooting nights.
WORST LOSS: lost to Franklin Bulls by 27 points
With a qualifying final spot on the line, Taranaki Mountainairs had to win their final match of the regular season to keep their top two hopes alive. They had beaten Franklin Bulls twice earlier in the season, but this night was different, blown off the court early and never able to recover, they went down in a deflating 92-65 loss and had to settle for fourth. Raukawa (19 points, four rebounds and four assists) and Jones (17 points, nine rebounds and four assists) dug deep, but the likes of Joe Reddish (18 points, five assists), Isaac Davidson (17 points, four rebounds and five assists), Everard Bartlett (16 points, six rebounds and five assists) and Sam Timmins (seven points, 12 rebounds, three assists and five steals) ran rampant. Luckily for the Airs, they beat the Bulls a few days later to reach the semis.
Derone Raukawa 23.7 points, 3.6 rebounds, 7.4 assists, 1.4 steals
Marcel Jones 22.8 points, 13.1 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 1.2 steals
Shane Temara 12.3 points, 6.3 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 0.5 steals
Ken Tuffin 9.2 points, 4.7 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.8 steals
Tai Wynyard 7.6 points, 4.1 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 0.7 steals
WHAT WENT RIGHT?
Jones and Raukawa’s seasons for a start, as both were named in the All-Star Five at the conclusion of the regular season. They were phenomenal each and every night, and were hard to stop even on quieter nights. Combining for 46 points, 17 rebounds, 12 assists and three steals per game, they were the most dominant duo in the Sal’s NBL. Secondly, if the game was played on paper, the Airs had the best stats across the board of any side, finishing first in points, rebounds, blocks and field shooting percentage, as well as second in assists, which was a remarkable effort.
WHAT WENT WRONG?
When the depth stepped up, it was hard to match the Airs as you knew what you were going to get out of the two elite talents. However when the depth struggled, so did the Airs, with the heavy rotations making them unpredictable, but also not as consistent in the back-end of the season. Early in the season they looked like the premiership favourites, but were just overrun at the end by a couple of quality units.
Taranaki Mountainairs were always a genuine contender with their elite talents and the dominant duo. The rare finds in Tuffin and Mulvihill proved steals in the competition, while a number of young talents stepped up to find their feet at the level. They fell a match short of the big one, but expect them to be back bigger and better next year.
TO begin this edition of Draft Central’s Top 10 Moments, we look back at the season opener between the Taranaki Airs and Nelson Giants and the steps taken to get the NZNBL season underway, in a year filled with unpredictability.
For our full match report between the Airs and Giants – Click HERE
With the COVID-19 pandemic taking the world by storm the NZNBL season did not look likely to happen, however New Zealand’s swift response to the outbreak enabled them to eradicate cases and regain some form of normalcy on the the sports front.
The league’s season opener could not have been more of a success, as both sides from Taranaki and Nelson arrived at Trusts Arena with a fire in the belly and an eagerness to get out on the floor. Before too long, the opening tip was conducted, and the 2020 season was off and running.
While both sides lacked accuracy in most facets of the early stages of the contest in an adrenaline filled building, Airs bigman Tai Wynyard converted on a layup around the rim to not only set the game in motion, but the rest of the league as well, putting the first points on the board for this year’s NZNBL.
As neither team could separate from one another after 10 minutes, in what was a tit-for-tat opening quarter, the scoring prowess of eventual All-Star Five selectee and league leader in points and assists, Derone Raukawa came into effect.
Capping off 30-23 second quarter, Raukawa alongside teammates Francis Mulvihill and Carlin Davison were able to keep themselves in the driver’s seat with a six-point lead heading into the main break.
Following the second intermission, onlookers at the season-opener saw first-hand what the second half of the Airs’ duo was capable of, as Marcel Jones, the eventual leader in rebounds across the competition, proved why Doug Courtney selected him in his squad on Draft Night collecting a stockpile of offensive and defensive rebounds.
Meanwhile, Shane Temara proved why he would become one of Taranaki’s most prolific role-players as the Airs continued their good play extending their lead to double digits with a quarter to play.
Despite Nelson’s best efforts in the fourth thanks mostly to Thomas Ingham and Tysxun Aiolupotoea, the Airs proved to be too strong in their initial matchup of the fixture in a relatively even fourth quarter as Taranaki earned the 112-96 victory.
Raukawa recorded the first of many Man of the Match honours with a 28-point and 10-assist night, as Jones fell three assists short of a triple-double in what was an exemplary start to an exceptional season with 13 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists. Whereas for the Giants, it was Nicolas Trathen with a game-high 25 points, while Aiolupotoea and Ingham combined for 53 points between them.
The free-flowing contest the game would become set the tone for an entertaining and meaningful season for the seven teams that participated in the NZNBL, as well as New Zealand basketball as a whole. Therefore, it fits in handsomely at the number 10 slot in Draft Central’s Top 10 Moments of the 2020 NZNBL season.
WITH the NZNBL season done and dusted Draft Central takes a look at some of the top performers throughout the season. Taranaki Mountainairs, Manawatu Jets and Otago Nuggets have quite a few players that feature within the top five areas in focus given their impressive 2020 campaign.
Taranaki Mountainairs star, Derone Raukawa leads all comers when it comes to points with an average of 23.7 a game. Raukawa was a commanding presence for the Airs and was a key reason his side got as far as they did with his ability to find the basket and score. Hot on his heels was teammate Marcel Jones who also impressed throughout the season averaging an impressive 22.8 points thanks to his tenacity and drive to the rim. MVP winner Thomas Vodanovich also had a commanding influence on the scoreboard with the Manawatu Jets bigman leading the way for his side and hitting the scoreboard regularly to register an average 22.4 points. Although the Auckland Huskies had a challenging year it did not seem to faze Izayah Mauriohooho Le’Afa who proved to be the go to when it came to posting a decent tally single handedly influencing the outcome of games with his average of 20.7 points a game. Rounding out the top five is Jordan Hunt who managed 19.6 points a game for premiers Otago Nuggets.
Topping the table for points, Raukawa also took out top spot for assists with the Airs playmaker amassing an average of 7.4. Classy with ball in hand, Raukawa was both a threat on the scoreboard and in transition constantly dishing off dimes to his teammates to create attacking forays. Jets player Hyrum Harris also impressed throughout the season racking up 6.4 assists a game thanks to his vision and execution while Mauriohooho Le’Afa showcased his strength with ball in hand to record 5.4 a game. There is no denying that premiership player Jarrod Kenny was electric with ball in hand, able to slice through the full court press and release the rock with confidence racking up 5.2 assists a game as Taylor Britt closed out the top five with 4.6 assists for the Canterbury Rams.
Frequently hitting the scoreboard, Jones also showcased his firepower and strength off the backboard with a whopping 13.1 rebounds a game. Jones was an integral member for the Airs with his ability to gobble up anything that came his way. Not far behind him was Harris with the Manawatu Jets representative proving to be a menace for opposition teams with his rebounding position to pick up an average of 11.6. Coming in at third on the leaderboard, Leon Henry had a solid season for the Huskies dragging down 10.9 rebounds while Vodanovich showcased why he was MVP featuring in the top five for rebounds with an average of 10.2 thanks to his commanding frame and read of the play. Although he did not get as much court time as his counterparts Alexander Talma secured fifth spot on the tally with a season average of eight rebounds.
When it came to defensive pressure and blocks Samuel Timmins led the way not only for his side but for the competition with the Franklin Bulls player notching up 1.7 a game testament to his impeccable foresight and elevation to get hands to ball. Shane Temara was not far off the pace with 1.1 blocks a game while Joshua Leger recorded an average of a block a game. Both Dane Brooks and Henry managed just under a block a game sitting at 0.9 blocks a game highlighting their defensive pressure for their respective teams.
Harris had a hand in just about every facet of the game with the Jets star taking out top spot for steals with a competition high 2.7 highlighting his ability to cleanly attack the ball and most importantly succeed. Similar to Harris, Mauriohooho Le’Afa had an impressive season featuring highly in most areas with an average of 2.5 steals while Jayden Bezzant also starred for the Jets with his speed to dart around the court and get a hand in at every opportunity that came his way with 1.9 steals a game. Henry amassed 1.6 steals a game as Josh Bloxam completed the top five with 1.5 steals.
Derone Raukawa: 23.7
Marcel Jones: 22.8
Thomas Vodanovich: 22.4
Izayah Mauriohooho Le’Afa: 20.7
Jordan Hunt: 19.6
Derone Raukawa: 7.4
Hyrum Harris: 6.4
Izayah Mauriohooho Le’Afa: 5.4
Jarrod Kenny: 5.2
Taylor Britt: 4.6
Marcel Jones: 13.1
Hyrum Harris: 11.6
Leon Henry: 10.9
Thomas Vodanovich: 10.2
Alexander Talma: 8
Samuel Timmins: 1.7
Shane Temara: 1.1
Joshua Leger: 1
Dane Brooks: 0.9
Leon Henry: 0.9
Hyrum Harris: 2.7
Izayah Mauriohooho Le’Afa: 2.5
Jayden Bezzant: 1.9
Leon Henry: 1.6
Josh Bloxam: 1.5
THE Manawatu Jets have knocked out the Taranaki Mountain Airs in a fast-paced second semi-final 105-95, therefore earning the right to compete for the New Zealand National Basketball League (NZNBL) Championship for just the second time in the club’s history.
MANAWATU JETS 34 | 21 | 12 | 38 (105)
TARANAKI AIRS 23 | 27 | 20 | 25 (95)
Having fallen to them in both of their prior meetings, the Airs had no intention of getting off to a slow start against the Jets. But to make sure they got off on the right foot, Doug Courtney’s side had to neutralise the newly crowned MVP in Thomas Vodanovich. Meanwhile for Manawatu, their priorities laid with halting the league’s most lethal duo in Derone Raukawa (led the League in points and assists) and Marcel Jones (led the League in rebounding).
Both sides traded buckets early on, exchanging the lead seven times in the opening five minutes in a seesawing opening quarter. Five straight points from Ashton McQueen seven minutes in, saw the Jets produce the first noticeable advantage in the game leading by eight with two minutes to go in the first. This was emphasised further after a triple from Nicholas Fee found its mark and as a result, Manawatu found themselves leading by double-digits at the first intermission and shooting at a remarkable 68 per cent.
Taranaki’s frontcourt started to make its mark on the game, as Shane Temara and Tai Wynyard got early buckets in the second, using their strong bodies to gain valuable second chance points. A 6-0 run for the Airs brought the contest back to just a single possession, but the stint was quickly undone after Hyrum Harris converted a momentum killing And-One. Nevertheless, a physical brand of basketball from both teams kept spectators on their toes for the rest of the first half. Even though Manawatu maintained an efficient shooting clip, so did Taranaki. This time it was the Airs’ backcourt that started to make the difference, with individuals like Raukawa and Kenneth Tuffin closing the gap at half-time.
If Zachary Easthope had not fouled Jayden Bezzant on his last second three-point attempt, the Airs would have only trailed by a single basket at the main break. However, that was not the sequence and Bezzant capitalised, making all three shots from the charity strike and gifting the Jets a convenient five-point lead. As both teams shot at 51 per cent, it was Manawatu that could thank their aggressiveness for getting their noses ahead, getting to the line 11 times compared to the Airs who shot just five free-throws.
On an individual level, Jones stood alone at the top of both rosters. The All-Star Five nominee secured 18 first half points and nine rebounds without a missing a second of play through 20 minutes. Meanwhile, guards Bezzant and Raukawa both made noticeable contributions with 13 points each for their respective teams. Wynyard’s size proved too much for Taane Samuel and the Jets early on, with a couple of baskets two minutes into the third and Temara provided the extra points where they were needed. This tied the game at 58 three minutes into the second half and the seesawing affair would resume again. A magical spinning floater in the key from Raukawa with three minutes to go in the third, gave the Airs the lead for the first time since the opening term. This was further compounded following an exquisite pick-and-roll between Jones and Wynyard, extending their fragile lead to three with a quarter to play and a critical quarter overall for the Airs, winning the term 20-12.
The duo of Samuel and Harris proved fruitful in the infant stages of the final quarter, helping their side even up the game and eventually retake the lead two minutes into the period. Then, a 10-0 run from the Jets capped off by a McQueen fast-break three, got Manawatu’s noses in front by eight and regained control back to Tim McTamney’s boys. Manawatu blew the game out of the water at the mid-way stage of the fourth, putting the deficit into double digits once again and forcing Raukawa and Jones to force their hands on numerous trips up the floor. With Taranaki in the bonus with more than four minutes still to play, it made closing the gap on the Jets that much more difficult, as they trailed by 10 in the dwindling moments of the game.
League MVP Tom Vodanovich would contribute to seven of his team’s final 11 points before picking up his fifth foul with a minute remaining, as consistent free-throw shooting topped off a well-rounded night for the Jets, eliminating a resilient Taranaki side 105-95 and earning their second ever Grand Final spot in club history. Even though the Airs shot better overall on the night, it was Manawatu that forced Taranaki to make an abundance of errors throughout the four quarters. While the Jets conceded eight takeaways in 40 minutes, Taranaki were induced into giving up the ball a total of 16 times, 12 of which were as a result of steals. In turn the Jets punished the Airs for this, scoring 25 points from turnovers, being a major factor in their side’s victory.
Vodanovich put together a team-high 28 points along with 11 rebounds, while Harris contributed another multi-faceted game with 17 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists and seven steals accounting for more than half of the team’s steal totals. Another surprising participant for the Jets was big-man, Taane Samuel, securing 23 points and five rebounds in over 30 minutes on the floor. In their final outing, like so many times before, the Airs’ highlights came from predominantly two men. Raukawa who was a man on a mission found his way to account for 32 points and five assists, while his right-hand man in Jones submitted 25 points, 13 rebounds and six assists in the loss.
Manawatu Jets’ forward, Harris credited the outcome post-game to a strong second half, noting a change in defensive transition and focusing their attention more on their scoring, but remains confident heading into the grand final.
“I think with us it’s just a mental thing,” said Harris. “We’ve just got to push through those sorts of calls and any stuff that happens, but I think we did a good job of it [tonight] and obviously we came out with the win.”
The Jets look to Saturday’s Grand Final looking to exact revenge on an Otago Nuggets team that has beaten them in all four of their previous encounters to this point (most recently by 25 in the qualifying final). Can Manawatu promote a different result the fifth time round? We will find out tomorrow night.
THREE teams down and four remain in the 2020 Sal’s National Basketball League (NBL) Finals Series after the first two nights of post-season action. Last placed Canterbury Rams survived a challenge from Nelson Giants on night one and came from behind to put away Auckland Huskies with an inspired third term last night. Taranaki Mountainairs were able to hold off Franklin Bulls in the other elimination final yesterday to make it through to the semis. Now the Rams take on top of the table Otago Nuggets, and the Airs face up against Manawatu Jets.
Otago Nuggets vs. Canterbury Rams
Not many people would have seen this as a matchup for the semi-finals, but the last placed Canterbury Rams have made it through to the penultimate round to take on the Otago Nuggets. The winner progresses through to the grand final and the loser bows out for 2020. Will the Nuggets live up to their top billing at the end of the home and away season? Or will the Rams’ fairytale run from last to the title continue?
Canterbury Rams 22 | 20 | 12 | 23 (77)
Otago Nuggets 28 | 28 | 9 | 22 (87)
Canterbury Rams 14 | 13 | 20 | 27 (74)
Otago Nuggets 13 | 14 | 26 | 22 (75)
TOP PERFORMERS – HEAD-TO-HEAD:
Jordan Ngatai (Nuggets) 17.0 points, 5.0 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 2.5 steals
Kane Keil (Nuggets) 12.5 points, 4.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 2.0 steals
Josh Aitcheson (Nuggets) 10.5 points, 2.5 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.5 steals, 1.0 blocks
Jarrod Kenny (Nuggets) 7.0 points, 3.0 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 0.5 steals
Taylor Britt (Rams) 16.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.5 blocks
Sam Smith (Rams) 17.0 points, 5.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.0 steals
Thomas Webley (Rams) 13.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, 0.5 steals
Alex Talma (Rams) 12.5 points, 8.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.5 blocks
** Only played one game
TOP PERFORMERS – SEASON:
Jordan Ngatai (Nuggets) 18.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.5 steals
Taylor Britt (Rams) 20 points, 6.2 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 1.3 steals
WHAT DOES EACH TEAM NEED TO DO TO WIN?
The Nuggets must ensure the young Rams do not have a purple patch in which they can pile on the scores quickly. The last two nights Canterbury has dug deep after facing a deficit and piled on runs to hit the front and never lose it. The likes of Jordan Ngatai and Kane Keil need to be on their game, whilst the two most important people could be Jordan Hunt and Jarrod Kenny. The former needs to win the head-to-head over Thomas Webley after Webley’s match-winning performance last night, and he has the strength, but will need to avoid his opponent using his athleticism to get to the basket. Kenny won Defensive Player of the Year for a reason, and he needs to hassle his opponent whether it be Taylor Britt or Reuben Te Rangi and make sure they have an off night, whilst trying to hurt them the other way with some long-range bombs.
The last two night previews have been talking about the stars in Britt and Te Rangi, but boy did the Rams really come of age against the Huskies and look like genuine title contenders. Just as Auckland would guard one hot-handed scorer, another would pop up. Webley played his best game of the year when it counted, while Sam Smith took over Te Rangi’s scoring duties and keeping in mind the Rams built a lead in the third erm with Te Rangi and and Britt combining for just 11 points at one stage. Alex Talma also missed last night and could provide much height on the glass, but then again, do the Rams need him? As the Nuggets are a little smaller than the Huskies and more spread in their shooters. They have to limit Ngatai’s influence though as he is the star on court who can put on a one-man show.
What a clash this shapes up to be. Otago Nuggets have to be the pick given they finished first, but Canterbury Rams are running on a high right now and look like they could beat anyone on court. They have to perform at their best for longer to knock off the league’s best side this season, but anything is possible in this Finals Series.
Manawatu Jets vs. Taranaki Mountainairs
In a huge second semi-final, the Manawatu Jets are looking to bounce back from their qualifying final loss to the Nuggets with a win over Taranaki Mountainairs. The Airs knocked off Franklin Bulls last night and were effectively equal second with the Jets and Huskies despite finishing fourth. These two teams are the league’s highest scoring teams, and looking at their past two encounters, expect it to go a similar way, with the winner reaching triple-figures if not both sides.
Manawatu Jets 22 | 27 | 39 | 14 (102)
Taranaki Airs 23 | 28 | 23 | 19 (93)
Manawatu Jets 22 | 32 | 31 | 33 (118)
Taranaki Airs 25 | 23 | 32 | 23 (103)
TOP PERFORMERS – HEAD-TO-HEAD:
Hyrum Harris (Jets)** 24 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists, 0 steals, 2 blocks
Taane Samuel (Jets) 23.0 points, 7.5 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 2.0 steals, 0.5 blocks
Jayden Bezzant (Jets) 18.0 points, 3.0 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 1.0 steals
Tom Vodanovich (Jets) 17.0 points, 9.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.5 steals
Derone Raukawa (Airs) 27.0 points, 4.5 rebounds, 9.0 assists, 1.5 steals
Marcel Jones (Airs) 20.0 points, 12.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 0.5 steals, 1.0 blocks
Shane Temara (Airs) 17.0 points, 9.5 rebounds, 1.5 assists
** Only played one game
TOP PERFORMERS – SEASON:
Tom Vodanovich (Jets) 21.9 points, 10.4 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 0.9 steals
Derone Raukawa (Airs) 23.1 points, 3.4 rebounds, 7.5 assists, 1.4 steals
WHAT DOES EACH TEAM NEED TO DO TO WIN?
The Jets will be keen to see the return of Tom Vodanovich for this clash after missing the Otago Nuggets loss. Despite being this season’s MVP and a notorious high scorer, Vodanovich has not been able to punish the Airs the same way he has other sides, scoring 17 points in both matches and only having a real impact off the boards in the first encounter with 14 rebounds. The load has been shared around and realistically they need to continue to do that because unpredictability is the best key to victory. Hyrum Harris is a terrific facilitator, but he might need to score more if Vodanovich is still sore or having a down game, while Taane Samuel could be the wildcard in the pack, being the best performing player for Manawatu across the two games. They need to match Marcel Jones off the boards and try and limit Derone Raukawa as much as possible.
The Airs might have gone down in the past two encounters, but would fancy themselves here if they can get off the chain. They have a lot of underrated players, and bench players who can come off and have spurts of impact, whereas the Jets have such a strong starting five that they can get the majority of their points from them. Raukawa and Jones are hard to stop, but it will need to be the next group such as Shane Temara – who is almost averaging a double-double against the Jets – as well as Ken Tuffin, Mitch Dance and Francis Mulvihill who really need stand up and provide support to the All-Star duo. It will also be important to try and read Harris and his passes to limit the scoring power of the Jets’ bigs, particularly Vodanovich.
The two highest scoring sides are set to put on a real show. Both sides have elite talents who can shoot or share the ball around, with strong rebounding and assist numbers across the board. They are both also more than capable defensively with some huge steal numbers, but the Jets will start as favourites in this one. With two wins from two games thus far, Manawatu need to keep doing what they have done in the past, but you cannot discount the Airs who at their best are a quality lineup.
IN a clash of completely different styles, the Taranaki Mountainairs have defeated Franklin Bulls in a nine-point thriller to advance through to the 2020 Sal’s National Basketball League (NBL) semi-finals last night. In a seesawing contest the Airs were able to finish stronger, defeat the Bulls 99-90 and set their sights on a final four clash with Manawatu Jets tomorrow night.
TARANAKI AIRS 26 | 22 | 24 | 27 (99)
FRANKLIN BULLS 18 | 27 | 19 | 26 (90)
There were not many better ways to start off finals week than to have Marcel Jones and Derone Raukawa be unveiled in the Sal’s NBL All-Star Five. That and to have the Airs – the best offence – to face the Bulls – best defence – in a knockout elimination final.
In an attempt to control the rhythm of the game, the Airs came out with a 2-3 zone, an excellent strategy used to slow down play. So in order to combat this sluggishness, the Bulls tested their luck from deep, a lot. Safe to say the Airs’ coaching staff made the right choice as the Bulls came out cold, making just three of their first 14 shot attempts.
A timeout was called by the Bulls, but to no avail. The more the Bulls missed open threes, the colder they got and the less the Rams were inclined to give up paint position. When the Airs did find a way to force themselves in the paint, they were swarmed with five yellow jerseys cutting off all angles, hence forcing a kick out pass to a shooter on the perimeter.
Eventually Isaac Davidson drained a contested three – his first after three bricks – and the Airs saw their first slither of momentum. What preceded in the next 40 seconds however was truly remarkable. The Bulls stole the ball three times and snatched two offensive rebounds before they finally made a basket. That is five shots taken before the Airs could even leave half court, all resulting in a singular layup.
The Bulls ended the first down by only eight points. Which is not too bad considering they just shot two for 16 from three. But yet, the lack of aggressiveness that so badly inhibited their offence in the first, had now transferred all the way over to their defensive efforts, as they frequently allowed Bulls’ players to drive past them for easy layups. Simply put, the more the Bulls threw up ugly shots from three, the more the lead continued to grow. Hence, the greater the hill to climb for what is statistically the least impactful offence in the league.
This missing aggressiveness was only highlighted when the Bulls took their first free throws of the game with five and a half minutes left in the second.
But when you throw enough up, they have to start dropping soon and that is exactly what happened for Jackson Stubbins who hit back to back threes to shrink the deficit to three points. Slow close outs, clumsy passes and a technical foul put on Jones and the Bulls had officially climbed the hill, tying the game 40 apiece. Although the Airs were responsible for reeling them back in, they never allowed them to lead, ending the first half 50-48.
The Taranaki Mountainairs lost the privilege to say that as the Bulls saw their first lead of the game, with an ‘aggressive’ and-one from Dominique Kelman-Poto. One reason the Bulls kept within a fighting chance was for their work on the glass. Poor box-outs and lack of communication on behalf of the Airs had brought this once anaemic contest to a now fiery battle.
If the Bulls wanted to remain the leaders on the scoreboard, they would have to find an answer for Jones who seemed to have the hot hand all night, as he brought back the lead for his team. The Bulls tried to answer back with a missed three, then another, then another, all while Jones had hit his last three three-pointers. Within a blink of an eye, the Bulls went from breathtaking comeback to down by nine points… again.
The Bulls had already been on a 24-9 run, but with only 10 minutes on the clock, down by eight, the last quarter was not going to be easy. To do this, they needed to stay tight on the perimeter defensively and get a little lucky on offence. Funny enough, the Bulls started the quarter with suburb switching and smart help defence, forcing the Airs to put up an ugly shot before the Bulls splashed it in from three in transition.
More aggressive drive plays from Kelman-Poto and the Bulls were able to cut the deficit to four. But like with every time the Bulls fought the deficit, they fell right back down the hill. The Airs won the game 99-90, and now head off to the semi-finals to take on the Manawatu Jets.
The win was only possible on the back of some special players like Raukawa who finished the contest with 28 points, seven rebounds, three assists and three steals. Clearly Jones was motivated after being named in the All-Star Five as he left the ball game with 31 points while also securing 10 rebounds, seven assists and two blocks. Tai Wynyard (11 points, nine rebounds) came close to a double-double, whilst Shane Temara finished with eight points and seven rebounds in a solid effort. Coming off the bench for 15 minutes, Mitch Dance sank a couple of baskets and nailed his free throws to go at 100 per cent efficiency for six points and five rebounds.
Although it was not the Bulls’ night, no one will hold the result against Kelman-Poto who notched up 31 points alongside 10 rebounds, four assists and three rebounds. Isaac Davidson played a handy role with 24 points, three rebounds, two assists and one steel, but struggled with accuracy, shooting just 38 per cent from the field. Stubbins (12 points, seven rebounds, three assists and one steal) was the other player to reach double-figure points.
The Taranaki Mountainairs take on the Manawatu Jets tonight at 7.30pm local time.