Tag: Tysxun Aiolupotea

Draft Central’s NZNBL Top 10 Moments: #8 – Nelson’s statement win over Otago to conclude season

FOR most of the New Zealand National Basketball League (NZNBL) season, the Nelson Giants struggled to string together many triumphs in the 14 games of their campaign, finishing with a record of five wins and nine losses. But when the final game of the regular season came around, the Giants were hell bent on finishing on a good note.

The NZNBL this year has been touted as one of the most even in terms of the skill and the ability of all seven teams. Nelson’s final matchup with the first ranked Otago Nuggets is truly a testament to this statement, as it makes an appearance in Draft Central’s Top 10 Moments of the 2020 NZNBL season.

Full the full match report between the Giants and the Nuggets – Click HERE

Coming off of two demoralising defeats at the hands of the Auckland Huskies (67-96) and the Taranaki Mountain Airs (95-102) in their two prior outings, Nelson was in need of some dire momentum if they were to put themselves in as good of form as possible heading into finals week. However, to do this the Giants had to be flawless for a full four quarters if they were any chance to conquer minor premiers, Otago Nuggets.

While Otago limited the minutes of their marquee duo in Jordan Ngatai and Jarrod Kenny before their Qualifying Final as well as both bigs in Jordan Hunt and Kane Keil being absent due to “niggles” according to coach Brent Matehaere, the point still stood that Nelson needed to make a statement before finals.

The opening 10 minutes of play did not bode well for the Giants, as the Nuggets blew out of the starting blocks with their shooters ablaze, knocking down six first quarter threes led by Darcy Knox and Richard Rodger who had two each in the opening term. Otago produced an attractive 28-21 quarter time lead and it was obvious what Nelson needed to limit them for the remainder of the contest.

Mike Fitchett managed to hammer home the message of limiting Otago’s long-range shooting, as the Giants held the Nuggets to just four threes in total over the next three quarters and contribute to their fantastic defence during the stretch of play.

Through multiple stops and neutralising Otago’s scoring avenues, Nelson found themselves in the lead halfway through the second after a corner three from Thomas Ingham. The majority of the second entailed the trading of buckets, but a 7-0 scoring run thanks to Mike Karena and Tom Gargiulo, capped off the first half in dominant fashion and gave their side an eight-point advantage at the main break.

Despite a couple of big plays from Otago, the Nuggets could not eat into their double-digit deficit as Karena and his side continued their good defence in the final quarters of the encounter. Next to Karena, Zeb Lovell and Mika Vukona provided supplementary points down low in the paint as the Giants pummelled their South Island neighbours around the basket.

A final layup by Tysxun Aiolupotea with 27 seconds left in the game put the stamp on the one-sided affair, with the Giants putting on a defensive clinic over a Nuggets side that now had to quickly shift their focus to the Manawatu Jets a couple days later.

Nelson held the Nuggets to just 46 points in the last three quarters, as the Giants accumulated 76 points of their own in the same period of time. The winning side tallied 52 points in the paint, compared to the Nuggets’ 30, helping the Giants achieve a 52 per cent shooting average on the night.

Karena led the game in scoring with 26 points and three assists, while Ingham added a further 17 points and five rebounds. On the other side of the aisle, Knox displayed his offence for the Nuggets by serving up a team-high 17 points off the bench in 23 minutes of court time.

Nelson’s 97-74 demolition job of Otago marked their fifth and final win of the season and slotted them into sixth position to conclude the campaign. But the fact that Nelson was able to trounce the eventual champions of the season, fully embodies the level of competition the NZNBL had on display this year.

Draft Central’s NZNBL Top 10 Moments: #10 – Season Tip-Off and Opener

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.

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.

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.

Huskies’ 45-point first quarter squashes Giants with huge win

AUCKLAND Huskies produced the most efficient first quarter of the 2020 Sal’s National Basketball League (NBL) Showdown season, sinking 17 consecutive baskets without a miss on their way to 45 points in their 96-67 victory over Nelson Giants. Despite missing Taine Murray whose season ended with a broken hand in their last outing, the Huskies’ first quarter was the difference in building a staggering 32-point quarter time lead that was never really challenged.

NELSON GIANTS 12 | 19 | 23 | 13 (67)
AUCKLAND HUSKIES 45 | 17 | 23 | 11 (96)

[ … FULL MATCH STATS … ]

The Huskies showed no signs of missing Murray’s valuable offence in the first quarter as they exploded for an offensive barrage of 45 points. Even more staggering was their efficiency as their first missed shot came with 1:20 left on their eighteenth shot.

If the start of the game was a sign of things to come, it never looked good for the Giants as big man Josh Leger was caught sleeping on defence, before Leon Henry lobbed it in to Tohi Smith-Milner for the finish inside to open the game’s scoring.

Reuben Fitzgerald started in the place of Murray and grabbed the opportunity with both hands hitting a corner three, on his way to 12 first quarter points.

It was clear early that Henry was looking to attack the smaller Nelson outfit in the paint which opted to start without Mike Karena or the returned Mika Vukona. Once Karena was substituted in, Smith-Milner was able to stretch him to defend the perimeter, leaving Henry unleashed with the size advantage inside.

Every starter got involved for the Huskies with a deep three from Izayah Mauriohooho Le’Afa following a Marvin Williams-Dunn triple. Nate Wilson missed the first shot of the game for Auckland, but the Huskies were even able to grab the offensive board, rubbing salt into the wound for Nelson.

A Dane Brooks air ball accurately represented the quarter for the Giants as Wilson made up for his blemish with a big transition dunk. The first quarter ended 12-45 as the Huskies shot an incredible 90 per cent, including 89 per cent from deep.

There was no real offensive determination out of the gates for Nelson as they struggled to 22 per cent shooting, recording one assist compared to Auckland’s nine. Henry led all scorers with 13.

If the Giants were any chance of making it a respectable margin, they had to respond immediately. Besides a Karena technical foul, two Brooks blocks and a Tysxun Aiolupotea three gave them that start they needed. A Jaylen Gerrand three and a Wilson and-one quickly put a stop to that as the Huskies would not let any inroads be made into their huge lead. They passed 50 points with seven minutes to go in the second quarter and managed to continue to trade baskets with Nelson having made a very comfortable lead for themselves.

Karena’s shot was not falling as it usually does while Isaac Miller-Jose was trying to match his frustrated physicality for much of the game as the match threatened to heat up at times in the second quarter.

A Zeb Lovell and-one brought the lead below 30 until Mauriohooho Le’Afa dropped a deep two, and Murray replacement and New Zealand basketball veteran Aaron Bailey-Nowell scored his first competition points.

Smith-Milner barrelled his way to the hoop to close out a dominant first half for the Huskies which saw them lead 31-62, still shooting 56 per cent from beyond the arc. Though their burning hot hand couldn’t maintain their ridiculous first quarter shooting, they still attacked the paint, scoring 18 more points inside than Nelson.

Henry and Fitzgerald did not add to their quarter time tally as Lovell and Aiolupotea led the scoring for the Giants with seven points each.

Coming out of the locker room much later than their opposition, you had to wonder what Nelson were looking to achieve in the second half. Whatever it was, Smith-Milner was not having any of it as he scored 11 points in the first three and a half minutes which included two three-pointers and an and-one.

Theo Johnson and Brooks both put up athletic finishes inside as Mauriohooho Le’Afa did what he does, knocking down a beautiful step back mid-range jumper.

Williams-Dunn and Aiolupotea went head to head down the stretch until Karena imposed himself on the game with a spin out of the post for the reverse baseline dunk, only to follow it up with another one-hand dunk not long after.

With four seconds left, Fitzgerald burst out of the half court inbound for the layup, but another Miller-Jose offensive foul prevented it from counting. Though they showed better signs, the Giants were unable to take a big enough chunk out of the margin as they trailed 54-85 heading into the last break.

The Huskies did not play Mauriohooho Le’Afa, Smith-Milner or Henry in the final quarter giving some bench players good minutes.

Unfortunately, the game ended with little excitement as Nelson won the quarter scoring just 13 points to Auckland’s 11. Karena showed some fight out of the post but it was too little too late with them losing 96-67, a loss they will be keen to move on from as soon as possible having not been in the game after the first quarter deficit they gave up.

With 11 out of their 12 players scoring, Smith-Milner led the way with 20 points with Fitzgerald the next best with 14. Mauriohooho Le’Afa (12 points, four rebounds, five assists) and Henry (13 points, seven rebounds, four assists) enjoyed well-rounded performances as the Huskies fired on all cylinders offensively for much of the night. Their final week of NZNBL action will start when they face the Otago Nuggets on Tuesday and if they can mirror their first quarter in any way, it will go a long way toward them winning.

A disappointing night saw Nelson shoot just 38 per cent with Karena (15 points, eight rebounds) and Aiolupotea (13 points) the only players to reach double figures. The loss sees them sit at sixth place as they will want to start fresh against the first-placed Taranaki Mountainairs on Wednesday.

Giant second half and OT not enough for Nelson, fall to Airs

FANS who tuned in to see the Taranaki Mountain Airs take on the Nelson Giants witnessed a treat, as for the first time this season an NZNBL game would need overtime to separate two teams at the end of regulation, with the Airs squeezing out a hard fought victory against a wiley Giants outfit, 95-88, and moving back to the top of the league standings in the process of doing so.

TARANAKI MOUNTAINAIRS 27 | 30 | 6 | 12 | 20 (95)
NELSON GIANTS 19 | 17 | 20 | 19 | 13 (88)

[ … FULL MATCH STATS … ]

Heading into Thursday’s opening contest, the Airs were in marvellous form as Derone Raukawa was leading the League in assists and forward Marcel Jones was at the top of list in rebounds prior to their clash with Nelson. Furthermore, there was much anticipation between the matchup of Taranaki’s Tai Wynyard and Nelson’s Michael Karena, as both of these Centers looked to dominated around their respective baskets and gain an upper hand on one another.

With both sides trading baskets early, the two sides would be attached at the hip early on with eight points apiece, as neither side could gain a dominant grasp on the game within the opening minutes.

Following a successful three-point play and an easy layup via Zachary Easthope, the Airs could start to gain some traction in Thursday’s matinee, but Dane Brooks would answer back strong with five consecutive points of his own. This, on the way to 11 of his side’s 16 initial points of the game.

With numerous scoring runs headlining the opening quarter of play, Taranaki would have the last laugh, closing out the first ten minutes of play with an 8-0 scoring run, to lead 27-19 at the end of one, as Raukawa and Easthope’s seven points each led an 11 of 22 (50 per cent) shooting effort to kick off the contest.

A Jones spinning jumpshot and a Mitchell Dance hook shot extended the lead for the Airs to 12 continuing their scoring run to 12-0, which essentially set the tone for the rest of the first half.

As Taranaki hoisted a 14-5 run to commence second quarter proceedings, Nelson had their work cut out for them heading into the main break, as their struggle to find answers continued.

Despite the Giants leading in the three-point shooting category making five first-half triples from deep, the Airs were slaying the matchup from two-point range, converting 20 of their 31 field goal attempts (64 per cent).

Individually, Raukawa had another superior first half leading his side in points and assists (12 and four respective), whereas Jones was providing valuable contributions in most facets of the game and especially on the board, adding nine points, nine rebounds and three dimes to his side’s box score.

On the flip side, Brooks maintained his good play into the second quarter, concluding his opening two quarters with 11 points, four rebounds and three steals, as he had to figure out how to motivate his team to overcome a 21-point deficit in the latter half of the game, as the Giants trailed 57-36.

More of the same opened up the second half, as a mid-range jumper from Jones signalled a similar half to their first for Taranaki. However, a 14-0 run for the Giants pulled the deficit back to 11 points eight minutes into the third period following Zeb Lovell’s free-throws.

Jones’s hook shot halted the Airs’ run the next play, but Nelson just kept punching at the deficit, closing out a massive third quarter and outscoring Taranaki 20-6 in the ten-minute stretch of time, with the score at just 63-56 and the Giants forcing 16 turnovers to this point from the other team.

A flashy euro-step layup from Brooks was just what the doctor ordered to start off the last ten minutes for the Giants, trimming the Airs lead to a mere five points with Taranaki’s frustrations appearing to boil over.

Tysxun Aiolupotea’s back-to-back baskets brought the contest to just a single possession ballgame, helping Nelson to get in a position to knocking on Taranaki’s door halfway through the fourth. Succeeding this, both sides continued to trade successful plays, as Nelson struggled to complete their comeback, getting as close as a single point.

In the twilight moments of the game, Nelson made their final charge off the back of a Brooks three-point play with less than two minutes remaining, trailing by two points. With 30 seconds left, an Aiolupotea floater would send the game into overtime at 75-75, the first for the competition this season and completing the Giants’ run, which started late in the first half when they trailed by as much as 25.

To kick off the five minutes of post-regulation, Jones’s post-hook put the Airs on the right track which was further compounded by the fouling out of Thomas Ingham. Scoring the opening six points of overtime, Taranaki snuffed out the remainder of Nelson’s spirit following another Jones layup to cap off an 8-0 run.

The Giants rolled the dice one last time with a 6-0 run, before Raukawa’s eight made overtime free-throws would cement Taranaki’s second win in a row, taking out the result 95-88 and joining the Franklin Bulls at the top of the table with records of five wins and three losses.

In what was an honourable contest on the side of the Giants, their poor first half proved the obvious factor in their loss, trailing by 25 points at one stage. But highlighting a positive, a 39-18 second half from Nelson was a task many punters would have deemed impossible, as they almost conquered an almost insurmountable mission. Nevertheless, important late-game free-throw shooting by Taranaki was the major factor in holding off a rampaging Giants outfit, as they collected their fifth win of the season.

Nelson’s most notable contributor was obviously Brooks, following his 23 point, eight rebounds and six assists game, shooting at an elite 75 per cent efficiency (9-12) from the floor including three steals. Other contributors included Ingham (18 points and four rebounds) and Lovell (11 points and 12 rebounds), who racked up a hard-earned double double.

If history is any indicator, the performances of both Raukawa and Jones was to be expected all along. Firstly, for Raukawa, it was a night of consistency and focus, following his perfect night from the free-throw line (13-13) which added to his 24 overall points, suitably accompanied by his seven assists. Secondly, for Jones, converting nine of his 22 attempts would account for his 21 points, alongside his whopping 16 rebounds and further adding to his historic season to this point.

Next up for the Airs is the struggling Canterbury Rams on Saturday night, who are now more than ever hungry for a win. Meanwhile, the Giants can recover for Sunday and look to cut the distance between themselves and the Otago Nuggets for fourth position.

Jets slay Giants by 30 in three-point shooting masterclass

THE last time these two sides met the Giants secured a come from behind win, but the tables were well and truly turned this match with the Manawatu Jets putting on a spectacle especially when it came to sinking them from deep. Despite not having Hyrum Harris in the mix, the Jets went about their business as usual, bullying the Giants and creating plenty of scoring opportunities to run out convincing 30-point victors (102-72).

MANAWATU JETS 26 | 22 | 25 | 29 (102)
NELSON GIANTS 17 | 16 | 23 | 16 (72)

[ … FULL MATCH STATS … ]

With three wins apiece under their belt it was a tight contest from the opening whistle with neither side willing to give an inch. Thomas Ingham opened the account for the Giants sinking a triple but it did not take long for the Jets to respond through Ashton McQueen to level the scores. In his first game since coming out of quarantine, Nelson Kirksey added another three to the tally for the Jets in what was shaping up to be a showing of long range shooting. With both sides feeling each other out and settling into the fast paced tempo of the game Michael Karena inserted himself into the contest getting involved in a couple of passages of play and scoring some early points.

As the quarter progressed, inaccuracy seemed to plague both the Jets and Giants with neither side able to sink a shot whether it be from inside the paint or beyond the arc forcing the ball to constantly scream up and down the court. Unable to really find a rhythm it was the Jets that settled first applying a wealth of pressure and most importantly hitting the scoreboard.

Efforts from Kalib Marsich-Mullins and Jayden Bezzant continued to give the Jets the upper hand with the latter converting from down town to push his side out to a seven-point lead with less than five minutes remaining in the term. Bezzant was having things his own way in offence while teammate Taane Samuel had a blistering end to the quarter knocking down five points in less than a minute. With the lead out to 13 points the Giants rallied thanks to Theo Johnson and Nicolas Trathen who reduced the margin to nine heading into the break.

The Giants came out with more intensity and started to find their rhythm in offence with Karena eating into the margin within the opening minute of the quarter to draw back within seven. But Tom Vodanovich proved that anything you can do I can do better with the big man sinking a triple and extending the lead once again. While his efforts in offence were impressive his ability to get back and bring down the rebound also shone, proving to be a real thorn in the Giants side.

Renowned for their physicality, Samuel came off second best with the Jets star notching up his third foul for the game not even half way into the term. With a slight shift in momentum the Jets struggled to find the basket while the Giants found their stroke, sinking them from everywhere to minimise the lead to four. But an unsportsmanlike foul from Riley Bensemann gifted the Jets a couple of free throws and allowed them to regain some control on the game. Following that came an increased defensive pressure from the Jets, smothering every option and pushing the Giants to play the ball around.

Vodanovich upped the ante driving to the basket while McQueen put on a masterclass from three point range. With four minutes left in the quarter McQueen had nine points to his name while Vodanovich was on his way to a triple double with seven points, 13 rebounds and five assists before half time. The Giants simply had no answers for Bezzant who was causing headaches with his 13 points nor Vodanovich with the big man throwing his weight around across the court.

It was a much closer third quarter between the two sides as Karena once again stepped up to the plate for the Giants and steered the ship. It was the usual suspects for the Jets doing all the damage with Vodanovich and Bezzant combining well across the court and regularly hitting the scoreboard while Samuel and Kirksey also got involved in the action, helping to open up a 20-point lead at the six minute mark of the quarter.

Some good ball movement from the Giants allowed them to swinging the ball around the court and keep the Jets guessing with Dane Brookes sinking a timely basket from inside the paint. Samuel registered his fourth foul for the game subsequently forcing him to the bench for large chunks of the game. Meanwhile a hungry and revitalised Giants outfit fought back, with a couple of their young guns stepping up to the challenge with Josh Ledger and Tysxun Aiolupotea leading the charge on the scoring front. Finding their mojo across the court the Giants managed to cut the margin to 17 at the final break.

It was a dominant fourth quarter from the Jets who simply capitalised on every opportunity that swung their way. They impressed with their speed through court to slice through the Giants defence while McQueen continued to dominate from the three point line with four from five. In fact he and Bezzant could not be contained with the two sinking a combined eight triples from 10 attempts.

Although in foul trouble, Samuel stepped up to the plate collecting a couple of crucial offensive rebounds to steadily extend his sides lead but it was Haize Walker that stunned many with an explosive final term. Walker downed a huge three pointer, but to prove it was no fluke he backed it up with two more triples within two minutes to well and truly seal the deal for the Jets and take home a 27 point win.

Falling agonisingly short of a triple-double Vodanovich starred for the Jets amassing 19 points, 18 rebounds and nine assists in what was a stats stuffing performance. Bezzant also left his mark knocking back 24 points while McQueen slotted 17 points of his own. All of the starting five for the Jets recorded double figures for points with Kirksey nailing 12 and Samuel finishing with 10 while Walker also sunk 13. On the other hand only three players managed to reach double figures for the Giants with Ingham posting 19 points and six rebounds, Karena (14 points, four rebounds) and Trathen (10 points, nine rebounds, four assists).

The Giants front up tonight in a quick turnaround to play Taranaki Mountainairs, while the Jets take to the court over the weekend in back-to-back games against Otago Nuggets and Auckland Huskies.

Gigantic first quarter helps Giants upset Rams

IN an unexpected turn, the bottom seed has upset the top seed, as the Nelson Giants earned their second win of the season, toppling the Canterbury Rams in yesterday night’s second game. The Giants produced the biggest quarter of the season by any side to pile on 39 points to 22, before going on to win in a tight one, 97-90.

CANTERBURY RAMS 22 | 14 | 27 | 22 (90)
NELSON GIANTS 39 | 16 | 20 | 22 (97)

[ … MATCH STATS … ]

The Giants achieved the feat despite missing their marquee draft pick in Mika Vukona further, due to testing for appendicitis. Replacing Vukona, 27-year-old Michael Karena made his presence known early getting his name in the scorers’ column within 60 seconds of the opening tip. The Giants would come out firing on all cylinders, converting four of their six opening attempts from the field. As a result, Nelson would cap off one of the season’s best starts across all seven teams, getting out to a 21-5 lead.

Shortly after Dane Brooks’ mid-range jumper with 12 seconds remaining, the Giants would be sitting pretty ten minutes into the game, accumulating 39 first quarter points and leading the Rams by a formidable 17. The main proponent of Nelson’s awesome start was Nicolas Trathen’s 10 points from eighty per cent shooting, where as a team, the Giants would shoot 17 of 23 from the field (73 per cent) and earning 22 of their 39 points in the paint.

While Quentin Bailey of the Rams struck first on a hook shot in the post to start the second, Canterbury would fight inside around the bucket to claw their way back into the contest. But, the Giants would counter every strike for the rest of the first half in a grinded out effort from both sides. However, the constant remained, as Karena continued to do his part in place of Vukona. Back to back to back buckets by Mason Whittaker and Thomas Webley would cut the Rams’ deficit to 17 (7-0 run), with 90 seconds remaining. Nevertheless, with Karena successfully adding two buckets to the score line, it would stop the Rams in their tracks, extending the Giants lead to 36-55 at the end of twenty minutes.

Despite the highlights being few and far between for the Rams in yesterday’s contest, Webley led his side at the end of three quarters in scoring with 11, as Canterbury would outscore the Giants 27-20 in the championship quarter. This was due to the Rams’ depth, as Canterbury’s bench accounted for 31 of their 63 points three quarters of the way through the match (a plus-15 compared to Nelson).

In what was a period of scoring streaks from both sides, it was Nelson who got off on the right foot first, scoring the initial five points of the home period. The Rams parried this with 10 points in a row of their own, which was quickly undone by another scoring run by the Rams.

In what seemed like a hopeless task, the Giants had an answer for anything that Mick Downer’s side would throw at them and despite the insurmountable odds, a Taylor Britt layup would set up for a somewhat close finish, as the Rams would get as close as seven points. But straight out of a timeout, a running hook shot by Tysxun Aiolupotea would put the result beyond doubt, as the Giants took one massive step to getting their season back on track. The Rams would go into the bonus with a minute to go, allowing Aiolupotea to cement the win for the Giants with free throws, polishing off Canterbury and doling out their second defeat of the season, with a final result of 90-97.

After the two teams settled their differences on the hardwood, it could be summarised as a shooting exhibition on the part of the Nelson Giants. Which, when coupled with their extraordinary start, became their game to lose before the halfway stage of the game, leading by as much as 24 points.

Remarkably, the Rams would come out victorious in virtually all the non-scoring categories, but when a team like the Giants shoots at a 54 per cent efficiency (40/73), good ball movement sometimes isn’t enough to get the job done.

Michael Karena certainly proved his mettle on the night, encompassing a complete game in almost all facets. Karena’s stat-line read 27 points, 11 rebounds and five assists, as he would take man of the match honours. Alongside Karena, Thomas Ingham’s 20 points was a major contributor to Nelson’s second win in five outings.

For the Rams, leading the team once again in points, Britt would finish with 21 next to five assists in a good night of facilitating the ball. Samuel Smith and Alexander Talma also made their performances noteworthy with 12 points each.

The Rams can redeem their winning form in Saturday’s contest with the Nuggets in a top four duel, whereas the Giants take on the newly appointed bottom of the table Auckland Huskies on Sunday.

Bulls book back-to-back wins with Giant triumph

FRANKLIN Bulls have moved to an even win-loss record in the 2020 Sal’s National Basketball League (NBL) Showdown after downing Nelson Giants in a low-scoring, tight tussle. The Bulls survived a second quarter surge by the Giants to win three of the four terms and get up by six points, 75-69.

NELSON GIANTS 14 | 21 | 18 | 16 (69)
FRANKLIN BULLS 21 | 15 | 20 | 19 (75)

[ … FULL MATCH STATS … ]

Isaac Davidson kicked off proceeding with an early hot hand, draining a triple 21 seconds into the contest. For the Giants, Mike Karena looked busy early with a couple of two-pointers including an impressive fade away jumper, while Jackson Stubbins and Sam Timmins were also getting involved for the Bulls. After the Giants hit the front three minutes into the quarter, Timmins and Davidson helped the Bulls go on a nice little run with eight consecutive points, and then Joel Vaiangina joined the party once he came into the action.

Sensing the urgency to turn things around, Nic Trathen nailed two free throws to keep his team in the contest, as the Bulls had chances but missed a number of jump shots both inside and outside the arc. A Riley Bensemann attempted triple was made good thanks to a double chance points rebound and lay up by Josh Leger with just over three minutes left on the clock in the first term. Dom Kelman-Poto got his first point of the night with one of two successful free throws upon returning to the court from substitution.

Just as the Giants got close, Adam Dunstan decided to take matters into his own hands and add five consecutive points to stretch the lead to nine with 29 seconds to play, before a Dane Brooks jump shot late in the peace brought the quarter time margin back to seven.

The early going was all the Bulls as the Giants could not seem to buy a basket, with Franklin adding the first six points of the term to move 13 clear of their opponents. But then the range issues hit the leading side as well, with 90 seconds going by before Karena made good on a jump shot for the Giants for their first points of the quarter, and a minute later Kelman-Poto was fouled and successfully dropped two free throws.

The Giants started to turn it around after a slow start to the term, trailing 19-34 with three minutes and 14 seconds remaining. Then everything started to click into place. Theo Johnson and Tysxun Aiolupotea dropped back-to-back triples as the usually reliable Everard Bartlett missed his chance. Timmins produced a statement dunk with just under two minutes remaining to settle the team and ensure they held a 10-point lead, but it would be the last points of the quarter for the Bulls.

Johnson sank another triple, Thomas Ingham converted two free throws, and then Karena and Ingham both added a couple of extra points to game in the last minute. In that time, the pairing of Stubbins and Bartlett could not seem to find the accuracy from long range, and the Bulls’ lead had been cut to just one at half-time.

The Giants momentum continued after the main break with Karena immediately showing why he was so dangerous, getting close to the basket with a great lay up, and then draining a two-point jump shot. The hot hands flowed onto Ingham – who was fouled by Timmins – and Brooks as the Giants had piled on 17 consecutive points across either side of the break for a seven-point advantage.

Kelman-Poto broke the five-minute scoring drought for the Bulls with an important jump shot – and the and-on conversion from the foul line. Karena was making life difficult for Franklin however, slamming home another dunk at the two-and-a-half minute mark of the term. Chris McIntosh relieved some pressure with a triple midway through the term to cut the Bulls deficit to three, but Zeb Lovell soon increased that back up by answering that with a two-pointer. The teams traded blows late in the term with Bartlett finally nailing a triple, and his second triple – with 51 seconds remaining – saw the Bulls find the form of the first term.

Trailing by four points with just over a minute remaining, Kelman-Poto, Bartlett and Connor Woodbridge added a combined seven points to regain the lead at the death by three points. It set up a huge final term between the teams with everything on the line and the crowd on the edge of their seats.

It was the Bulls who struck first blood in the final stanza with Kelman-Poto and Timmins both impressing to give Franklin a seven-point advantage. Bensemann cut that back with a triple, but Nikau McCullough responded with a nice lay up. Neither team could seemingly hit a shot over the next couple of minutes until McCullough broke the drought, this time with a triple and the Bulls were out to a nine-point lead with seven minutes to play. Karena again stood tall with a fade away jumper, but as soon as he had cut the deficit back to seven, Davidson responded with a double of his own.

Each time the Giants were in trouble, it was Karena who stepped up as he continued to drain baskets and seemingly do it all in a desperate bid to haul his team over the line. With three and a half minutes to play, he earned one last rest after the last six points for the Giants. When he returned, there was two-and-a-half on the clock and Davidson drained a jump shot to stretch the Bulls lead to five.

There was no way Karena and his side was going to fade away – apart from his jumpers – as Lovell drilled a triple, and Karena quickly added a layup after Davidson missed a two-point jumper. The Bulls looked to be struggling to find avenues to the basket with a 24-second shot clock violation expiring and the ball handed back to the Giants as they trailed by two with 44 seconds remaining. The ball landed in the hands of Ingham who took a chance at the long-range jumper but missed, and Kelman-Poto got it to Stubbins who was quickly fouled to ensure the Bulls could not take time off the clock.

After missing his first free throw, Stubbins converted the second and the lead was three with 35 seconds remaining. Ingham again had the chance for redemption, but again missed it. This time it was Davidson collecting the defensive rebound and was immediately fouled. He too went at 50 per cent from the charity stripe, but it was enough to make it a two-possession game with a four-point lead.

The pressure was now getting to the Giants with Josh Bloxham called for ball handling and turned it over, with Stubbins getting fouled and making both free throws to put the result beyond doubt – barring a miracle – with 15 seconds remaining. Ingham tried to slice up the defence with a pass but Davidson picked his pocket and with nine seconds remaining, it ensured the Bulls would get up in a massive edge-of-the-seat contest, 75-69.

Whilst Karena was the star off the boards across the game with 26 points – at 70.6 per cent efficiency – as well as seven defensive rebounds – it was the even spread of the Bulls that got them home. Davidson recorded a team-high 15 points, as well as four rebounds and two steals, whilst McCullough (11 points), Kelman-Poto (10 points, six rebounds and three assists) and Timmins (10 points, three rebounds, two assists and two steals) also reached double figures. Whilst Stubbins only shot one from four from the field, he still nailed some important free throws and had 10 rebounds to go with his five points and two assists.

Other than Karena, Ingham (eight points, nine rebounds) and Lovell (six points, six rebounds) were prominent off the boards, but the former could not find his range with just one from 13 from the field, and five turnovers. The Giants will now take on the Canterbury Rams tomorrow night, whilst the Bulls play in the earlier game against Otago Nuggets.

Karena and Brooks returns sees Giants down Jets

The final game of the first week of the NZNBL (New Zealand National Basketball League) saw the Nelson Giants seeking their first win against the Manawatu Jets who were coming off a huge win the previous night, boasting many good performers.

While Mika Vukona did not return, the return of Mike Karena and Dane Brooks would have boosted the confidence of the Giants which would have been needed having known what the Jets did in their last outing.

NELSON GIANTS 16 | 18 | 28 | 26 (88)
MANAWATU JETS 22 | 20 | 21 | 20 (83)

[ … FULL MATCH STATS … ]

Fatigue from back-to-back games did not bother Manawatu as we were treated to a much higher scoring game than the earlier match. Winning the tip, Jets guard Jayden Bezzant passed to Taane Samuels who drained a triple within seconds of the tip. He then traded baskets with Karena who had not missed a beat. Despite huge games the previous night, Hyrum Harris (13 points, 21 rebounds) and Tom Vodanovich (38 points) were not feeling it early, although they did pick it up later. Harris turned the ball over for a Karena score, while Vodanovich missed his first shot.

Brooks found himself subbed into the game as coach Mike Fitchett was hoping he would have an immediate impact. An evenly poised first quarter of play after a Theo Johnson and-one conversion, the Jets would close the quarter out scoring eight of the last 10 points on back of a Haize Walker three and a Harris block, leading to a nice spinning layup for himself. Pulling away at the end of the quarter, Manawatu found themselves up 22-16 at quarter time.

Brooks launched himself into the game at the start of the second quarter with a huge swat off the backboard which led to a smooth finish up the other end from Nic Trathen who has enjoyed solid performances in the absence of Nelson’s star players. Vodanovich then suffered two missed three-point attempts and an offensive foul in just over a minute, a far cry from his heroics the previous night. Another Samuels triple gave the Jets an eight-point lead, and with Karena subbing out with foul trouble due to Samuels taking his second charge of the game in the tantalising matchup, it was looking dire for the Giants.

After trading baskets for two minutes, the Giants would get a stop and a Tysxun Aiolupotea floater would bring the deficit down to three-points. From there Vodanovich would leave the perimeter and put the ball on the floor as he and Walker would each score four points to extend the lead back out. If it were not for Johnson scoring five points late for the Giants, it would have been an ominous margin heading into half-time. The Jets were certainly much more convincing through the first half of play, shooting a much better percentage from the floor and controlling the tempo of the game. Johnson and seven second chance points from the Giants kept the margin to single digits with the scores 54-62.

Needing to lift the intensity, the Giants started the second half full of energy, securing a jump ball which led to an Aiolupotea layup. The good start the Giants needed was halted when Samuels continued to challenge Karena forcing him out onto the perimeter, draining another triple. The battle continued as Samuels drew a third offensive foul call on Karena, leading to a Vodanovich three, pushing the margin out to a game-high 12.

Nelson then turned it around and went on a 10-0 run for the next two minutes, including an unsportsmanlike foul and an offensive foul for Vodanovich, seeing him subbed out with four fouls. A big opportunity for the Giants, the Jets then scored seven straight points before Brooks hit the scoreboard for the first time with a much-needed triple. Johnson then secured a five-point play to see them trail by one. He would finish off his large third quarter with a go-ahead basket, before Samuels would regain the one-point lead for the Jets heading into the last quarter.

With the game in the balance heading into the final quarter, Vodanovich looked to assert himself early, but only mustered up an air ball attempt from deep and a turnover. While trading baskets, he would end up making a three in what was proving to be a see-sawing final quarter. Riley Bensemann then stepped up for Nelson and made some big plays with a block, a steal, a layup, and a triple following a stop. A Bezzant three would bring the game back to two points, yet the next two and a half minutes would bring trading baskets and turnovers back and forth until Johnson made it a two possession game with a triple with 40 seconds left.

A Harris layup would make the scores 84-83 the Giants’ way, until he committed an unsportsmanlike foul, all but ending the game. With intentional fouls and free throws ending the game at 88-83, the Giants recorded their first win for the season. A solid second half performance saw them score 13 more points than the Jets, giving them the confidence they need going forward. Johnson (20 points) and Karena (17 points, six rebounds) led the way while Trathen (11 points, six rebounds) and Aiolupotea (nine points) were both serviceable. They now sit in fourth place and face the Franklin Bulls on Tuesday.

Vodanovich (16 points, 16 rebounds) and Harris (18 points, 13 rebounds) were both impressive again as Bezzant (17 points, six rebounds) and Samuels (15 points, five rebounds) also put up solid numbers. The seventh placed Jets will be looking for more scoring depth when they face the ladder-leading Canterbury Rams on Wednesday.