Tag: toby gillooly

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 review: Canterbury Rams

CANTERBURY RAMS are next up in our team-by-team review series of the 2020 Sal’s National Basketball League (NBL) Showdown. The Rams finished on the bottom of the ladder at the end of the regular season but won through to a semi-final after upsetting both Nelson Giants and Auckland Huskies, before going down to eventual premiers, Otago Nuggets. We take a look at their season.

Played: 17
Won: 6
Lost: 11

KEY STATS:

Points: 86.4 (4th)
Rebounds: 44.4 (3rd)
Assists: 15.4 (6th)
Steals: 7.1 (6th)
Blocks: 2.9 (5th)
FG%: 44.8 (4th)

BEST WIN: defeated Auckland Huskies by 14 points

It was a remarkable win to the Rams in the elimination final, after really struggling in the first half with just 13 points in the second quarter, and trailed by double-figure points during the second term. A remarkable third quarter saw them run away with a 39-20 term to hit the front then hold on in the final term to win 98-84. Thomas Webley had a huge third term on his way to 21 points, seven rebounds and two assists. Taylor Britt came close to a triple-double with 16 points, seven rebounds, 10 assists and two steals, while Toby Gillooly (12 points, 12 rebounds and three assists) had a double-double. Reuben Te Rangi (13 points, eight rebounds and six assists), Sam Smith (16 points) and Quintin Bailey (14 points, five rebounds) were also prominent scorers in the win.

WORST LOSS: lost to Franklin Bulls by 25 points

Unfortunately the Rams had plenty of losses to pick from with 10 straight losses during the season. The biggest was that to Franklin Bulls, going down by 25 points where the Rams lost each of the four quarters. Alex Talma was a shining light with 25 points and seven rebounds, but Dom Kelman-Poto (22 points, seven rebounds and three assists) and Isaac Davidson (20 points, three rebounds, six assists and two steals) went to town and led their side to a memorable victory.

TOP PLAYERS:

Taylor Britt 19.5 points, 6.1 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 1.3 steals
Reuben Te Rangi 12.9 points, 3.6 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.4 steals
Sam Smith 11.9 points, 4.1 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 0.8 steals
Thomas Webley 11.3 points, 5.5 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 0.2 steals
Alex Talma 10.6 points, 8.0 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 1.0 steals

WHAT WENT RIGHT?

The Canterbury Rams came good at the pointy end of the season which counted and strung together three consecutive wins to reach the final four. It was a deserving finish for a team that had to overcome plenty of challenges along the way, particularly when it came to injuries. They had a number of standouts and young players who stepped up and gained valuable minutes.

WHAT WENT WRONG?

The 10-game losing streak and injuries galore. Unfortunately for the Rams, injuries to Jack Salt and Joe Cook-Green before the first tip-off had Canterbury on the back foot. Then Gillooly had an extended stint out and even Britt and Talma missed games. It truly was a tough season for the Rams, but led by Mick Downer, they did a remarkable job to reach the semis.

SUMMARY

Canterbury Rams started the season the same way they ended it: on fire with three wins. Unfortunately the injuries and 10 losses in between made it a game of catch-up for the side on the bottom of the table following 14 regular season games. They refused to let that stop them though, taking down the higher ranked Nelson Giants and Auckland Huskies to enjoy a remarkable run that was only cut short by a super side in eventual premiers, Otago Nuggets. Fully fit and with a good team chemistry, the Rams will be a team that could go all the way next year with very few changes likely to be needed.

Nuggets reach first grand final in franchise history, halt Rams’ run

LIKE all great stories, there is eventually an ending. This was the case for the Canterbury Rams’ spectacular New Zealand National Basketball League (NZNBL) Finals Week run, as they fell to the minor premiers and championship favourites, the Otago Nuggets. In what was a clinic from the Nuggets’ marquee signings, Jordan Hunt in particular helped elevate his side to their Franchise’s first ever Grand Final appearance, after surgically defeating a fatigued Rams squad, 97-79.

Knowing full well that Canterbury was not fully rested, Hunt expressed post-game that it was a major point for him and his side to exploit. “We just wanted to come out strong,” said Hunt. “It was pretty tough on the Rams coming off of two previous games in two days, so we just tried to put the foot on early and keep it there.”

OTAGO NUGGETS 29 | 25 | 27 | 16 (97)
CANTERBURY RAMS 22 | 17 | 18 | 22 (79)

[ … FULL MATCH STATS … ]

Having already pulled of remarkable upsets in their first and second elimination finals against the Nelson Giants and the Auckland Huskies, Canterbury’s biggest and most challenging opponent stood directly in front of them.

Pre-dating their third matchup, the Nuggets had emerged victorious over their South Island neighbours on both occasions. But, with both of those meetings being decided by 10 points or less, the Rams were not an immediate write-off before the opening tip. However, coming off a strong qualifying final triumph over the Manawatu Jets, it certainly seemed a ‘David vs Goliath-type’ line-up for the two sides and Otago was determined to win the franchise’s first NZNBL title.

Number one pick Jordan Ngatai kicked off the proceedings with an aggressive layup with his favoured left hand, while Joshua Aitcheson added to Nuggets confident start. Then 100 seconds in, an up-and-under layup by Rams’ captain Taylor Britt on Defensive Player of the Year Jarrod Kenny, got the second of the two teams up off the ground.

The ball started to find some range during the middle stages of the first quarter as both sides starting looking to the deep-ball, and at an efficient rate. A 35-second stretch saw back-to-back-to-back threes from Rams Toby Gillooly and Alexander Talma and Otago’s Kenny, highlighting the accurate shooting in the opening 10 minutes of play.

Keeping Mick Downer’s squad at arm’s length during the first term, a corner-three via Hunt extended Otago’s advantage to greater than two possessions, helping the Nugs to an advantageous 29-22 quarter-time lead. The Nuggets maintained 61 per cent shooting from the field off of 11 made attempts, nine of which were created through assists, as Hunt and Ngatai accumulated nine and eight points apiece amongst a fast-paced first term.

Another Kenny triple extended Otago’s lead to 10 points kicking off the second, but the Rams tried another approach of scoring, which came evident throughout the duration of the period. Going with a twin-tower formation between Talma and Thomas Webley, Canterbury hammered Otago’s frontcourt around the rim with close-range shots. But the Nuggets continued to capitalise on easy baskets, more times than not through dribble penetration and lacklustre help defence courtesy of the Rams.

Canterbury’s second half prospects of a comeback were hindered further, following a put back layup from Hunt. Otago held a handsome 54-39 half-time lead as a result of forcing numerous turnovers with Canterbury’s total at nine. Talma led his side in points at the main break, but with Hunt, Ngatai and Kenny each in double-digits at this stage, the Rams needed to pull a rabbit out of the hat if they were to claw their way back into the match.

With the Rams shooting 40 per cent leading into the third quarter, the red and black needed to hit their shots and quickly with time running out. But the second half started with defence for the Rams, as Reuben Te Rangi’s statement block on Ngatai set the tone for the next 10 minutes.

Even though both teams struggled to convert from the field, the Nuggets at least found some success on their shots, slowly but surely stringing together a 7-0 run to begin the second half and pushing their already commanding lead to 20 points. With the Rams desperately needing solutions, Brent Matehaere’s squad could smell blood and looked to their ball movement to deliver one last debilitating blow to a struggling Canterbury outfit.

As more of Otago’s bench players were getting some court time, fatigue became more and more of a factor in the later stages of the contest, as the Rams just could not keep up with the top-ranked seed in the League. And after Kane Keil’s reverse layup with 20 seconds remaining in the third, the 24-point lead (81-57) in favour of the Nuggets looked insurmountable for Canterbury, while Hunt continued his rampage, sitting pretty with 28 points through three phases.

Despite Canterbury’s roster depth and winning out in the bench points statistic, there was simply no answer for Otago’s marquee signings. This, coupled with the fact that the Rams were playing their third game in as many days, marked a battle that the underdogs just could not win.

One last charge for the Rams would ensue, off the back of Samuel Smith and Benjamin Carlile-Smith baskets, bringing the deficit to as little as 13 points. But following Darcy Knox’s layup and Ngatai’s three with a few seconds left, the Nuggets would cross the finish line cementing their place in the club’s first Final ever, knocking off the dark-horse Rams 97-79.

Otago’s 50 per cent shooting carried them for all four quarters as well as their 22 assists, capping off a well-rounded team effort on the night.

Leading them through the game, Hunt’s game-high 33 points and 10 rebounds earned him man of the match honours, as Ngatai and Kenny added 23 and 16 points each, as well as both of players doling out seven assists.

Sam Smith led the Rams in scoring with a flurry of late buckets, compiling a modest 13 points. Meanwhile, the duo of captain Britt and Webley combined for 24 points, whereas Te Rangi concluded his night with 10, alongside three rebounds and three assists.

The Rams’ Cinderella story came to an unfortunate ending last night after surprising most pundits to this point, but the Nuggets were plainly the more superior side over four quarters and can now look forward to their first ever grand final appearance on Saturday since their inception in 1990 when they face the Jets.

Webley leads third term Ram-raid to tame Huskies

AN inspired third term by the 2020 Sal’s National Basketball League (NBL) Showdown last placed side, Canterbury Rams has continued the unthinkable dream with a come-from-behind 98-84 triumph over Auckland Huskies last night. Led by Thomas Webley who set the tone in the third term after his side had a slow start, the big man turned it on with unbelievable athleticism to drag his team back from the brink and over the line despite a remarkable 39-point effort from Izayah Mauriohooho-Le’Afa.

AUCKLAND HUSKIES 26 | 16 | 20 | 22 (84)
CANTERBURY RAMS 23 | 13 | 39 | 23 (98)

[ … FULL MATCH STATS … ]

The first term belonged to the two talented Tall Blacks guards with Mauriohooho-Le’Afa and Reuben Te Rangi going head-to-head on the respective scoring fronts. The Auckland Huskies guard set up Tohi Smith-Milner with the opening basket of the game with a pass through traffic, and soon the size of Aaron Bailey-Nowell on offence added a couple more. Te Rangi would sink the first three-pointer of the game after being left wide open courtesy of a screen, but Bailey-Nowell immediately responded with a couple more points. Huskies had a number of chances but were missing them early, though that began to change when Mauriohooho-Le’Afa got cooking.

Te Rangi was still causing all sorts of issues for the Rams defence, piling on seven points, all of the Rams score in the first half of the term to get his side within four, and then assisted Quintin Bailey for a two-point deficit. But as would be the case, all the Rams scoring would come as a struggle, whilst the Huskies began draining treys like there was no tomorrow – which technically was correct for the losing side. Whilst Mauriohooho-Le’Afa was getting going, it was Leon Henry with a couple of triples and then a massive three first-quarter blocks that was intimidating the young Rams defence. At quarter time, the Huskies led by three after Taylor Britt’s first basket of the game with 40 seconds left got his side back into it.

Webley was having a promising game, and started well with three points and four rebounds, something he would build on in the second term. Despite the lead, Huskies coach Kevin Braswell was not happy with the defence on Te Rangi imploring his guards to double-team the Tall Black. They managed that better in the second term as he would not add to his seven first quarter scores, also gaining a bit of a breather as Sam Smith came on and piled on the baskets to be the most influential Ram with Webley in the second term.

But it was truly the Mauriohooho-Le’Afa show in the second quarter as he drained triple after triple to race to 20 half-time points courtesy of a 13-point second term. Between his offence and Henry’s defence, the inexperienced Rams were struggling to score. At one point, the Huskies guard was outscoring the Rams as Canterbury was two from 10 from three-point range, whilst the Huskies were draining a third of their chances.

The match was summed up by a fourth Henry block with four and a half in the term, followed by a Mauriohooho-Le’Afa trey putting the Huskies out to 12-point lead. With just 29 points to the midpoint of the term, the usually calm Mick Downer told his chargers that it was “the most selfish individual display I’ve seen from us this whole campaign and this is why we have 29 points.” The Rams managed to respond from that to cut back to six points as Smith drained a couple of layups. With 46 seconds remaining, Henry bowled over Ben Carlile-Smith and won the free throws, showing confidence with a stare down over his opponent on the ground. The half-time buzzer sounded with the Huskies up by six, 42-36.

It is unsure what went on at half-time, but whatever it was, it turned the Rams offence on. Whilst the Huskies defence was worried about Te Rangi and Britt, it was Webley who came to play, draining the first six points of the term and went on to finish the term with double-figure points as the big man was dropping floaters and slamming athletic dunks. He not only dragged his team back into it, but he lead the Rams to up to a lead themselves with a 16-4 run early in the term.

Mauriohooho-Le’Afa continued his form though with four points, but he was up against a team offence that had finally clicked. If it was not Webley, then it was Bailey or Toby Gillooly who were making the Huskies hurt. The biggest issue was the Huskies’ big men were getting into four trouble with Henry (three) and both Smith-Milner and Bailey-Nowell (four each) all close to being fouled out. Henry was still being aggressive on the offensive effort to try and help Mauriohooho Le’afa out, but everything the Rams touched turned to gold. Britt dropped a couple of treys off rare Henry fumbles out of bounds and the lead went out to 11 at one point.

Everything was going wrong for the Huskies as they were desperately trying to get some baskets, but a rushed pass from Smith-Milner was intercepted by Britt who went to the basket and was fouled to put the lead out to 13 by the final term. No one could quite understand what had occurred in the third quarter following a massive 39-20 term. What was even more remarkable was the fact that Te Rangi had not scored since the first term, and Britt only had 12 points – most of which came late in the term. For the Huskies, Mauriohooho-Lea’Afa and Henry combined for 46 points and 14 rebounds but needed more support.

The Huskies had 10 minutes to try and stay in the Sal’s NBL Finals Series, but it was not going to happen with a triple from Jack Exeter to push the lead out to 14 in the first 90 seconds. Henry responded with a last second trey before the shot clock expired. The Rams were still being aggressive on offence and throwing everything at the Rams in the last term. Henry was being incredible both inside and outside, and when Mauriohooho-Lea’Afa dropped another basket, his side was back within nine.

Six minutes in the Rams called a timeout with the 11-point lead and Downer implored his players to keep up the aggression on offence without going too far. The Huskies kept trying for long-range attempts, but the treys were now not dropping. Instead, Te Rangi was fouled shooting for a triple of his own and had three free throws, making two of them for a 12-point lead with five minutes remaining. The work by Canterbury’s defence to double-team Henry on the way to the hoop forced a miss, and Te Rangi almost ended the game with a triple but it rolled in and out.

With 3:47 remaining, Bailey-Nowell was fouled out for an offensive foul and a 11-point deficit. Henry continued his unbelievable work on defence and it led to a Huskies basket up the other end with Anamata Hatu scoring his first points coming on for Bailey-Nowell. Reuben Fitzgerald was using his speed to get to the basket but split both free throw opportunities in the final term with eight points the difference. When Smith-Milner was offensively fouled by Te Rangi with 2.31 on the clock, the Huskies had possession again and Mauriohooho-Lea’Afa was fouled on the way to the hoop and made no mistake with his free throws to go up to a massive 39 points and getting his team within six points.

Unfortunately for the Huskies that was as close as it got with Te Rangi draining an important basket, Britt doubling up with two nice jumpers and with just over a minute remaining the Rams held a 12-point lead. The Rams managed to wind down the clock and when Smith sank a trey with 30 seconds remaining, he iced the game to guarantee the Rams a most magnificent victory, 98-84.

Webley finished with 21 points, seven rebounds and two assists, shooting at 69 per cent from the field, while Britt (16 points, seven rebounds and 10 assists) ended up having a prominent night after a slow start. Te Rangi quietened down after his ripping first term but finished with 13 points, and still contributed with eight rebounds and six assists, while Gillooly picked up the only double-double of the game with 12 points and 12 rebounds to his name. Smith (16 points, two rebounds and two assists) and Bailey (14 points, five rebounds) were the other double-figure Rams. For the Huskies it was a two-man show with Mauriohooho-Le’Afa dominating everywhere with 39 points, six rebounds, five assists and two steals, while Henry threw himself desperately at every ball to end with 18 points, eight rebounds, four assists and six blocks. Smith-Milner was the other Huskies player to pick up double-digit points with 16 but outside of the trio, the remainder of the team contributed just 11 points.

Whilst the Huskies exit the competition after some terrific basketball this season, the Rams advance to take on the top of the table Otago Nuggets tomorrow night, having to recover for the second straight night. While it is unheard of to think the last placed side could take out the title, the Rams so far have shown anything is possible.

Sal’s NBL Finals night preview: Huskies v Rams and Airs v Bulls

ONE team is out and six remain in the 2020 Sal’s National Basketball League (NBL) title race following the first night of finals action. Canterbury Rams won the first of four games they will need to win if they are to hold the title this year, defeating Nelson Giants and now moving on to face Auckland Huskies in another elimination final. Rounding out the elimination finals is a fourth against fifth clash between Taranaki Mountainairs and Franklin Bulls. Both sides have been ladder leaders at different stages through the season, but only one can advance to the semi-finals.

The semi-finals take place tomorrow night, with Otago Nuggets playing the lowest placing loser – which could be any of the three sides other than Auckland Huskies – while the Manawatu Jets could meet anyone bar Canterbury on the penultimate finals stage.

Auckland Huskies vs. Canterbury Rams

In the opening match of the night, the fourth placed Auckland Huskies take on the last placed Canterbury Rams who got through the first hurdle by overcoming the Nelson Giants last night. This clash will be substantially harder, but they have beaten them once, albeit in the opening week of the season.

PAST MATCHES:

Canterbury Rams 29 | 17 | 24 | 32 (102)
Auckland Huskies 12 | 20 | 16 | 22 (70)

[ … FULL MATCH STATS …]

Auckland Huskies 18 | 30 | 28 | 12 (88)
Canterbury Rams 24 | 12 | 18 | 27 (81)

[ … FULL MATCH STATS … ]

TOP PERFORMERS – HEAD-TO-HEAD:

Izayah Mauriohooho-Le’Afa (Huskies)** 19 points, 2 rebounds, 3 assists, 8 steals
Leon Henry (Huskies) 9.5 points, 10.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 2.5 steals, 0.5 blocks
Tohi Smith-Milner (Huskies) 10.0 points, 5.5 rebounds, 0.5 assists, 1.0 steals, 1.0 blocks
Toby Gillooly (Rams)** 25 points, 6 rebounds, 0 assists, 1 steal, 2 blocks
Taylor Britt (Rams) 21.5 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 0.0 steals, 0.0 blocks
Thomas Webley (Rams) 11.0 points, 6.5 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.5 blocks

** Only played one game

TOP PERFORMERS – SEASON:

Izayah Mauriohooho-Le’Afa (Huskies) 19.2 points, 4.3 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 2.7 steals
Taylor Britt (Rams) 20.3 points, 6.1 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.2 steals

WHAT DOES EACH TEAM NEED TO DO TO WIN?

The Huskies have really found their form in the second half of the season and have a really well balanced team. With Leon Henry guiding the younger players with his rebounding prowess, Taine Murray on a tear when he is red hot, and Izayah Mauriohooho-Le’Afa having a Defensive Player of the Year award type-season, they are a hard team to beat. That is before you get to the likes of Tohi Smith-Milner among a host of others off the bench who can contribute on the scoring front.

The Rams rely a lot on Taylor Britt to score, but can have cameos from others such as Toby Gillooly and more recently, Reuben Te Rangi. They have the strength off the boards with Alex Talma and Thomas Webley working hard on the inside, but will have their work cut out with Henry and Smith-Milner crashing the boards. It will need to be a clinical performance from the Rams to get up with the Huskies so strong defensively, you cannot afford to have too many loose balls.

WHO WINS?

Auckland Huskies were not too far off the top two, and deserve to head in as favourites here. While they lost to the Rams in their opening game of the season, they are in much better form of late, even with the Rams picking up back-to-back wins in the past few days. If the Huskies can play to their potential, they just have too much depth to rely on, while the Rams have some serious A-grade talent, but injuries have hurt them this season otherwise they would have finished higher up the ladder.

Taranaki Mountainairs vs. Franklin Bulls

The second match of the night has a huge clash between two genuine title contenders that neither the Nuggets nor Jets would particularly look forward to playing. The Airs have won both their previous encounters against the Bulls, but finals is a different ball game and this shapes up to be a beauty.

PAST MATCHES:

Franklin Bulls 31 | 21 | 18 | 25 (95)
Taranaki Airs 25 | 30 | 27 | 25 (107)

[ … FULL MATCH STATS …]

Franklin Bulls 17 | 12 | 31 | 28 (88)
Taranaki Airs 31 | 25 | 24 | 22 (102)

[ … FULL MATCH STATS … ]

TOP PERFORMERS – HEAD-TO-HEAD:

Marcel Jones (Airs) 29.0 points, 11.5 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.0 blocks
Derone Raukawa (Airs) 19.5 points, 3.0 rebounds, 8.0 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.0 blocks
Ken Tuffin (Airs) 10.0 points, 6.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.0 blocks
Isaac Davidson (Bulls) 22.0 points, 6.5 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.0 blocks
Nikau McCullough (Bulls) 11.0 points, 2.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.5 blocks
Dom Kelman-Poto (Bulls) 14.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.5 blocks

** Only played one game

TOP PERFORMERS – SEASON:

Derone Raukawa (Airs) 22.8 points, 3.1 rebounds, 7.6 assists, 1.3 steals
Dom Kelman-Poto (Bulls) 16.9 points, 7.4 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.4 steals

WHAT DOES EACH TEAM NEED TO DO TO WIN?

The Airs have had the edge over the Bulls in their opening two encounters thanks to the 12 and 14-point wins. Given they are relatively comfortable victories, they would head into this game with confidence, particularly given not only their All-Star duo in Marcel Jones and Derone Raukawa‘s form against the Bulls, but also Ken Tuffin‘s 10-point and six-rebounds average against Franklin. They need to keep doing what they’ve been during the season, but need to put in a four quarter effort to ensure they remain alive in the competition.

The Bulls have one of the most even spread of sides in the competition. At one point they won five out of six games and looked like they were going to storm away with the minor premiership before slipping back to the pack in the second half of the season. If the Bulls can limit the influence of Jones and Raukawa then that will go a long way to winning. Obviously that is easier said than done, but perhaps the roles for Everard Bartlett and Nick Barrow could be huge, with Isaac Davidson and Nikau McCullouch trying to pile on the points, while Dom Kelman-Poto provides the inside presence.

WHO WINS?

With two wins in the bank against their opposition, the Airs will be favourites heading into this. Given they have 40 per cent of the All-Star team in their possession, they are genuinely a top four side ready to advance. The Bulls have such an even squad across the board, it is difficult to try and lockdown on one player, but Davidson might be that player whose hot hand early in the season led the Bulls to a number of victories.

Rams survive first challenge with thrilling win over Giants

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

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

[ … FULL MATCH STATS … ]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Huskies snatch seventh win to stay in touch with top three

A HUGE ladder-defining Sal’s National Basketball League (NBL) Showdown contest ensued on Wednesday night as the Canterbury Rams took on the Auckland Huskies with no winner in clear sight until the last few minutes when the Huskies emerged victorious. From the very beginning, the Rams enforced their dominance by killing the Huskies for rebounds. Both teams came into the game looking just a little sloppy, with silly fouls, thoughtless turnovers and questionable shots, yet the rhythm of the game was quickly about to change as Auckland got the points, 90-81.

CANTERBURY RAMS 15 | 25 | 17 | 24 (81)
AUCKLAND HUSKIES 18 | 31 | 15 | 26 (90)

[ … FULL MATCH STATS … ]

What did not change was that with every shot, red jerseys swamped the glass but the Huskies were finding their way into the driving lane with ease. Nice interior passing and remaining patient near the basket was how the Rams kept it close for the start of the quarter. It was the Huskies’ strong defensive plays that saw Auckland begin to lead, extending to a three-point margin that would provide a buffer for the rest of the match.

Rams’ Thomas Webley had the play of the game, and maybe the season, as the quarter nearly closed. It was a jab-step crossover so deadly that it knocked the defender to the ground, closing in to slam it over a Huskies defender. Five seconds later, he swatted Jaylen Gerrand‘s ball – a 10-second clip that Webley might hold onto for a while.

But Gerrand came out streaky in the second, with back-to-back to back made threes, helping the Huskies to lead by nine. His value only increased when every defending Ram had one eye on the ball and one on Gerrand, leading the Huskies to knock down easy jumpers.

The Rams’ strategy was the exact opposite – they attacked the rim in nearly every possession. This is easier when you have someone like Taylor Britt, a player so quick on the dribble that he can beat his man or find the open one. But after running a play just like that, Britt hit his already injured elbow into a defender diving for a rebound. Britt crashed to the floor holding his elbow but would get back up a few seconds later. A timeout was called, and the Rams’ chances for a comeback felt increasingly slim, but as the timeout ended Britt re-took the floor and ran the first play for the Rams. A moment that would act as a turning point in the game, the Rams had time to reflect on it as they went back into the locker room down by nine at half-time.

With smart passing, aggression in the lane and immaculate defence, it was like the Rams just started the game again. Within two minutes of the second half beginning they were back within a basket. Finally after a 8-0 run coming out of half-time, the Huskies called a time out but it was too late – that 8-0 run became a 10-0 run, and before you knew it, the game looked like it was for a championship or bust. Diving on loose balls, scrambling for rebounds and piercing passes were just some of the things that made this quarter remarkable. Gerrand was able to stabilise the game for the Huskies with a flashy layup but the intensity did not waver. It was a hotly contested game, with both teams arguing with the referees on almost every call.

Quintin Bailey was instrumental in not allowing any easy baskets under the rim. Yet the same went for opposing big man, Leon Henry. Both teams were forced to settle for jump shots, especially in the third quarter. The tough battle continued, with Webley forced to exit the game for a blood rule though the origin of the blood was unknown. The third quarter would end 57- 64 as the Huskies had survived the comeback and were now battling with their head just above water in the fourth.

That burning resilience shown by the Rams in the third had clearly taken its toll, with the side allowing far too many close rim shots early. The Huskies, noticing this opportunity, directed all of their plays towards the rim to block the Rams and limit scoring opportunities. But fatigue hurt the Rams in more than one place, with Britt’s lighting quick moves slowing down as the game went on. Britt is not just the leading playmaker for the Rams, but is also a barometer for the team, meaning as his foot came off the pedal so did the rest of the Rams’.

Lucky for the cellar dwellers, the Huskies also went through the same issue in the latter stages of the game. Huskies coach, Kevin Braswell tried to counter this by running a zone on the other side of the floor, and the strategy worked as the Huskies hit back-to-back threes to bring the lead to nine with over five minutes to go. The hot hands would not leave the Huskies as that lead became 10, then 12 and then finally back to nine, to sound the horn as the Huskies won 90-81.

Tohi Smith-Milner (22 points) and Henry (13 points, 12 rebounds) both finished with double doubles on the night, while Gerrand was the Huskies’ top scorer thanks to 26 points and two rebounds. Izayah Mauriohooho Le’afa (17 points, nine assists and four rebounds) and Reuben Fitzgerald (10 points, three rebounds) also reached double-figure points. For the rams, Britt helped himself to a team-high 19 points, five rebounds and four assists, while Alex Talma (15 points, 11 rebounds) picked up a double-double. Toby Gillooly stepped up to recorded 16 points, eight rebounds and three assists, while Bailey (13 points, six rebounds) was prominent off the bench.

Each team has one remaining game in the regular Sal’s NBL season and play on Saturday evening with the Rams to face the Franklin Bulls and Huskies to matchup against the Manawatu Jets in the final game of the night.

2020 Sal’s NBL night preview July 22: Airs v Giants and Rams v Huskies

EACH 2020 Sal’s National Basketball League (NBL) Showdown side only has two games left in the regular season as the finals seres has already taken shape. With the top two teams winning overnight, it all but locks up the qualifying final unless one massively stumbles, while the bottom two are also secured with Nelson Giants and Canterbury Rams set to play off in the first elimination final. Both play tonight against a couple of top four sides hoping to have a strong run in the last couple of games. The remaining matches in the competition are the third encounters between the teams.

TARANAKI MOUNTAINAIRS vs. NELSON GIANTS

Taranaki Mountainairs are the only side that can upset the current order of play with the top two sides in the Otago Nuggets and Manawatu Jets. Whilst the league’s most high-powered offence can level the top two sides on eight wins after this game, the Airs have to hope they win their last game while both teams lose their final two encounters. For the Giants, they sit in the bottom two and are preparing to play the Rams in the first elimination final next Tuesday in which there will be no turning back. In saying that, claiming a huge scalp or two in the final week could do wonders for the confidence.

While the Airs dominate across the board in most statistical areas such as points (plus 19.8), rebounds (plus 9.1) and assists (plus 4.5), the biggest differential might be in the shooting efficiency from the charity stripe. The Airs are the top side at capitalising from the line, making 79.3 per cent of their free throws, while the Giants are last with just two thirds on their free throws going in. The Airs are the most efficient side in the competition which sets them up for finals, shooting at an average of 47.5, while the Giants are 43.3 per cent, ranked sixth of the seven sides.

In the first encounter between the sides back on opening night, the Airs got up 112-96 over an understrength Giants side missing Mika Vukona, Mike Karena and Dane Brooks. Derone Raukawa (28 points, six rebounds and 10 assists) had a night out, teaming up with Marcel Jones (13 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists) who both were not too far off triple-doubles. Five Airs reached double-figure points in the opening game of the season, while it was Nic Trathen (25 points, four rebounds), Tom Ingham (23 points, four rebounds and three assists) and Tysxun Aiolupotea (20 points, five rebounds) who picked up 68 of the Giants’ 96 points on the night.

The Airs doubled down on their hold over the Giants in their second match on July 9, albeit needing overtime to finish them off. Leading by a whopping 21 points at half-time, Taranaki watched its lead dissolve as the Giants stormed home. Lucky for the Airs, they won overtime 20-13 to claim a 95-88 victory. Raukawa (24 points, three rebounds and seven assists), Jones (21 points, 16 rebounds, four assists and two blocks) and Ken Tuffin (10 points, 13 rebounds and three steals) all went to work in the win. For the Giants, Brooks topscored with 23 points and eight rebounds, while Zeb Lovell picked up a double-double courtesy of 10 points and 12 rebounds.

CANTERBURY RAMS vs. AUCKLAND HUSKIES

Auckland Huskies’ top two dreams might have been dashed with the loss to the top of the table Otago Nuggets last night, but third spot is still within reach if the Huskies can string together a couple of wins. They sit in fourth currently, but could still slide to fifth if they go down here and the Franklin Bulls get up. The Rams are locked into the bottom two, but have the chance to overtake the Giants with a couple of wins in the last two games and get off the bottom. In saying that, Canterbury is on a nine-game losing streak after winning its first three matches, so will need to lift in order to break that run.

Both these sides are evenly matched when it comes to the stats, with the Rams marginally ahead in points per game (86 to 85.3), while the Huskies shade them in rebounds (44.6 to 43.9). Auckland is one of the stronger assist sides, averaging 17 per game compared to the Rams’ 14.9, though Canterbury is far more accurate from the field, with a 45.5 per cent efficiency rate compared to the Huskies’ 40.3 per cent. Thought a lot of that damage was done early in the season, with the Huskies boosting their field goal numbers on the weekend having sunk the first 17 baskets against Nelson Giants. Not much separates them from a three-point shooting perspective, but the Rams are ranked second in free-throw shooting percentage.

The other game on opening night was a throwback to sweeter times for the Rams as they produced what would be their best performance of the season with a 102-70 triumph over the Huskies. The Rams dominated from the first tip-off and won three of the four quarters on their way to a 32-point victory. Taylor Britt lit up the court with 22 points and eight rebounds, well aided by Toby Gillooly (25 points, six rebounds and two blocks), as the side looked to have compensated for the loss of Jack Salt and Joe Cook-Green on the eve of the season. The Huskies had a dirty shooting night, sinking just 33.8 per cent of their field goals compared to the Rams’ 52.1 per cent, with Tohi Smith-Milner‘s 15 points at 62.5 per cent, and Nate Wilson‘s 10 points at the same efficiency the only proficient and efficient scorers.

The second encounter on July 9 resulted in a Huskies victory, but not without a sluggish start. Auckland trailed by six points at quarter time, then poured on 58 points to 30 in the middle two terms to race off to a 22-point final break lead. The Rams tried to storm back with a dominant 27-12 final term, but fell short going down 88-81. Izayah Mauriohooho Le’Afa played in this one after missing their early encounter and had a whopping eight steals to accompany 19 points. Inaccurate on opening night, Leon Henry (17 points, 14 rebounds and four steals) and Taine Murray (19 points, five rebounds) both contributed at a higher rate. Britt had another impressive night with 21 points, six rebounds and four assists, while it was Thomas Webley (15 points, six rebounds) and Sam Smith (12 points, two rebounds) who stepped up in the absence of Gillooly who had joined the injured group.

Vukona return sparks Giant win over Rams, ends four-game slide

THE Nelson Giants’ runaway fourth quarter has led to the ninth straight downfall of the Canterbury Rams in the 2020 Sal’s National Basketball League (NBL), as the return of Mika Vukona helped spark a strong performance, despite a limited run on the floor last night.

NELSON GIANTS 13 | 29 | 22 | 16 (80)
CANTERBURY RAMS 22 | 15 | 20 | 7 (64)

[ … FULL MATCH STATS … ]

While it remains very unlikely for either the Giants or Rams to make the top four, both teams had a lot of pride on the line before squaring up last night in Saturday’s opener. The Giants, who looked at ending their four-game skid, had to knock off a Rams side that was desperate for a win, having lost eight straight contests prior to the matchup.

Good news for Nelson straight off the bat, New Zealand Hall of Famer and 162-time Tall Black in Vukona made his first appearance for the Giants, coming off the bench in his side’s bid to gain some room off the bottom of the standings. Meanwhile, the Rams’ chances looked bleak, as key guard Taylor Britt was absent due to an elbow injury.

Nevertheless, Reuben Te Rangi, Benjamin Carlisle-Smith and Alexander Talma got their squad going early, opening up a 6-0 start to the clash of the two South Island sides.

The advantageous start for the Rams would set the tone for the majority of the first term, pushing their lead to as much as nine points off the back of two free-throws from Te Rangi. The conversion rate was the ultimate factor in obtaining the 22-13 lead at quarter-time for Canterbury, as the squad shot over 40 per cent from the field compared to the Giants, who shot under 30 per cent.

After Vukona made his first basket of the season 37 seconds into the second period, it seemed as though Nelson started to gain a little bit of momentum. But, a well organised and prepared Canterbury side parried most of their runs during the first few minutes of the second.

Following an injury scare to the Rams’ Samuel Smith, Canterbury continued to outperform the Giants in all methods of scoring. Methods varied from points in the paint to second chance points to points off the bench, as Mick Downer’s squad flexed their depth late in the first half.

An unsportsmanlike foul on Te Rangi allowed Nelson back into striking range, as Nicolas Trathen’s technical free-throws and Theo Johnson’s three helped cap off an effective 13-0 run giving Nelson the lead for the first time in the game. Te Rangi’s three tied the contest up, but a Dane Brooks and-one and dunk solidified the half-time lead at the main break, giving his team the five-point edge 42-37. Thanks to his last-minute run of plays, Brooks led the way for his team in scoring and rebounding prior to the third quarter, adding 10 points and five rebounds to the cause, while Te Rangi was held responsible for his 11 individual points.

A glaring red light for Canterbury’s first half downfall was in the category of points from turnovers. Nelson’s defence led to eight points from forcing takeaways, as the Rams were yet to produce in that fashion. Despite this, the Rams contributed 15 second-chance points, compared to Nelson’s 11, highlighting one of the few good things the bottom-dwellers of the league did up until half-time. The Rams’ Jack Exeter knocked down a lead-off three to get Canterbury off on the right foot, as Canterbury quickly levelled the playing field a couple minutes into the second half with both sides sitting on 44 points apiece.

With both sides going basket-for-basket in the middle stages of the third period, Nelson could start to exploit the Rams’ holes in their defence, separating themselves from their opponents and after Johnson’s And-1 dunk, they could start to see the light at the end of the tunnel leading by as much as seven points with just over a quarter to play.

That lead would remain for the rest of the third phase as a Mac Stodart’s alley-oop layup on the buzzer gave the Rams a modicum of hope going into the final ten minutes, as they continued to search for answers to lock down the key (the Rams allowed 38 points in the paint through three quarters).

Nelson’s frontcourt started get results as the big-man duo of Mike Karena and Vukona helped extend their team’s lead into double-digits for the first time of the night, leading 72-57 with just under eight minutes remaining. Following this, everything started to fall, as Alexander McNaught added to his impressive performance with a three-pointer of his own.

Another scoring run from the Giants would put the result beyond all doubt all the way to the final whistle, as Nelson ran away with the contest by a potent 16-point deficit, 80-64. It therefore ended their four-game losing stretch and improving their record to four wins and seven losses. On the other side of the tape, the Rams move a game and a half back on the standings, losing their ninth straight after a string of close defeats over the last few weeks.

Brooks led the charge for the Giants, standing with Karena as one of the only two players to reach double digits in scoring. The shooting guard remained reliable from the field, hammering home 26 points and eight rebounds in his man of the match performance. For Karena, 11 points and five rebounds completed a modest performance off the bench, as Vukona made a substantial impact in his return to the hardwood (eight points, three rebounds and two assists).

While each basket for the Rams seemed to be a challenge, Te Rangi continued his good start to the season with a team-high 15 points and four rebounds. Meanwhile, Toby Gillooly earned his salt at the free-throw line attributing five of his ten points to the charity strike, going five from six.

Both sides encounter the Auckland huskies in their next on-court appearances, with Nelson to face the side in the next 24 hours and looking to close the gap for fifth spot in the standings. Next up for the Rams, they can look forward to some rest as the injury woes continue for the Red and Black, lining up against the Huskies on Wednesday night looking to avoid a double-digit losing streak after their ninth consecutive loss last night.

2020 Sal’s NBL night preview July 18: Giants v Rams and Nuggets v Bulls

A BOTTOM two clash between the most out-of-form sides and a battle between two title contenders is what confronts teams in a big Saturday night of action in the 2020 Sal’s National Basketball League (NBL) Showdown.

NELSON GIANTS vs. CANTERBURY RAMS

To say the first match of the night is a must-win for both teams is an understatement, with a combined 12 games losing streak between them. Luckily for the Giants, they only share in four of those 12 straight losses, having last won back on July 5 over the Auckland Huskies. Since then, they have fallen to the top four sides consecutively, and by an average of 14 points, with the eight-point defeat to Otago Nuggets the closest. The Rams have now eight straight losses to their name after three initial wins, but their last four games have been agonisingly close. Since losing the Bulls by 25 points back on July 8, their last four defeats have been by an average of four points. The fact that they have gone down by seven, five, three and one, the pattern tells us the Rams could be in for a win.

Taylor Britt has been the standout player this season for Canterbury, adding 21.3 points, 4.2 assists and 6.6 rebounds per game, ranked first, first and second in those areas for his side. Alex Talma has been really impressive off the boards with an almost double-double average of 10.6 points and 8.2 rebounds, while Sam Smith (12.6 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.6 assists) has stepped up in the average of Toby Gillooly since the early rounds. Reuben Te Rangi is starting to head up for the Rams, and when the Tall Blacks talent really gets going, he will be crucial to their success as they try and make up some ground on the other teams.

The Giants have missed the influence of Mike Karena (17.0 points, 5.7 rebounds and 1.9 assists) of late, while Thomas Ingham and Nic Trathen have stepped up to average double-figure points and more than four rebounds per game. throughout the season. The Rams are a strong rebounding team with four players totalling more than five rebounds per game, but need to build their assist tally with just one player – Alexander McNaught – averaging more than 2.2 assists per game.

Nelson’s best has been very impressive, but the Rams have been better in their defeats of late. The last time these teams faced off the Giants won 97-90 in a tight contest off the back of a 39-22 first term, which is why the Rams must try and restrict the scoring early and it will go a long way to finally breaking the losing drought.

OTAGO NUGGETS vs. FRANKLIN BULLS

The second match of the night has finals ramifications in the scheme of things with a second and third clash between the Otago Nuggets and Franklin Bulls. Both are level on 6-4 in the top three, with the winner to move ahead of the other clearly. The Nuggets fans may not have any nails left after their last two clashes – dropping a game to Taranaki Mountainairs by a point, before bouncing back to defeat Canterbury Rams y the same margin. Overall, the Nuggets have been in great form, completely dismantling the Manawatu Jets a week ago to win by 36 points on their way to a season-high 130 points. The Bulls went on a four-game winning streak at one stage, but have had a yo-yo last couple of weeks with two wins and two losses rom their last four games. They have a real balanced squad and will be keen to make it two consecutive wins for the first time since early week three.

Jordan Ngatai is maintain a massive 20 points per game average for the Nuggets, also putting up 3.5 assists and 6.0 rebounds to sit second in those areas for his side. Since his massive first day out with 28 points, Jarrod Kenny has been the facilitator for his teammates, leading the side in assists with five per game to accompany his 12 points. Jordan hunt has stepped up as that second scorer with 16 points and six rebounds, but it is the work of underrated talents like Kane Keil and Josh Aitcheson who both average double-figure points, two assists and four rebounds, which has helped the Nuggets remain successful.

The Bulls have a side where all of their players can step up and be a scoring threat on their day, with Isaac Davidson averaging a team-high 16.8 points, 4.2 rebounds and 2.3 assists, as big men, Dom Kelman-Poto and Sam Timmins have dictated play off the boards. Kelman-Poto (15.5 points, 7.5 rebounds) and Timmins (13.1 points, 6.4 rebounds) have been prolific at the four and five spot, while captain Everard Bartlett, and fellow three-point shooter Nikau McCullough are no stranger to coming on and having bursts of impact throughout the match.

The last time these teams went head-to-head, Bulls got up by six points in an important win in the scheme of things. This clash has all the hallmarks of a thriller that could again go down to the wire, and possibly into overtime, with a flip of the coin as good a way as any to try and guess who takes out this match.