Giants stand tall, finish Round 9 on top

THERE is a new ladder leader in the New Zealand National Basketball League (NZNBL) after Nelson Giants toppled fellow contender Hawke’s Bay Hawks to become the first side to record eight wins in the 2022 season. The Giants moved to an 8-3 win-loss record – with the Hawks going 7-4 – and in the process leapt over the 7-5 Auckland Tuatara. Despite leading through most of the first half, the Giants found themselves trailing at the breaks, then down by as much as 10 points midway through the third term before storming home to run out 11-point winners over the Hawks, 85-76.

HAWKE’S BAY HAWKS 24 | 25 | 13 | 14 (76)
NELSON GIANTS 22 | 21 | 19 | 23 (85)

Built up as a blockbuster clash, the Nelson Giants started the stronger of the sides, with all four of their key shooters draining shots in Trey Mourning, Jarrod West, Sam Dempster and Alexander McNaught. They raced out to a six-point lead (16-10) midway through the quarter, when West was dropping triples with ease. Hawke’s Bay’s pairing of Ethan Rusbatch and Hyrum Harris were hitting their shots and both had seven points apiece at quarter time, guiding the Hawks back into the lead with Tajuan Agee‘s hitting the last two scores of the quarter for a 24-22 advantage.

The Giants immediately took the lead early in the second term off McNaught’s And-One chance in the first 15 seconds, and then built a four-point buffer as Samuel Thompson and Nic Trathen got lively. Thompson’s eight second quarter points would lead Nelson to a 35-29 lead at the four-minute mark of the term, before Derone Raukawa went haywire from long-range, and Rusbatch assisted in scoring 17 of the last 23 points for the Hawks to yet again finish the term strong and lead by six at the main break.

After Agee scored the initial basket for the Hawks, it was the Giants who started to gain momentum, albeit only briefly as Rusbatch and Harris both scored crucial layoffs to bring up the first double-digit lead of the contest. With the scores reading 57-47, few would have predicted that the Giants were about to swing the momentum and score 38-19 over the 16 and a half minutes. But that they did, as they outscored them by 10 in the remaining third term to actually hit the front, before Harris made one of two free throws to level the scores at 62 points apiece at the final break.

It was an even contest for the most part in the fourth quarter as Agee drew the Hawks within a point after his layup miday through the term, but then the shooter was hit with an unsportsmanlike foul on Mourning who drained both free throws, then a pull-up jumper to hand the Giants a five-point buffer. The long-range shooting of the Giants was becoming a problem again as Dempster ad West hit truly, whilst the Hawks odd miss was hurting them, and as it ticked into the final two minutes, the Giants lead by nine points. Both teams could not find the basket in any real capacity with only a free throw each adding to the score, but the Giants were happy with that, coming away with an 85-76 win.

It was a consistent effort from the starting five fro the Giants, as Thompson (14 rebounds, three assists, two steals and two blocks), Mourning (seven rebounds, two assists) and West (five rebounds, seven assists, two steals and five of 12 from long-range) all scored 18 points. Dempster (13 points, four rebounds and two assists) and McNaught (nine points, four assists, three rebounds and two steals) both stepped up, while Trathen had seven points, nine rebounds and two assists in 14 minutes coming off the bench. For the Hawks, their quartet of scorers saw Agee (18 points, 10 rebounds, three assists and two blocks) and Harris (12 points, 11 rebounds and four assists) pick up double-doubles, while Rusbatch (19 points, four rebounds and two assists) and Raukawa (17 points, three rebounds and two assists) also put pressure on the Giants defence with their scoring.,

Hawke’s Bay Hawks will get an early chance via a rescheduled game against Manawatu Jets tomorrow, while Nelson Giants lock horns with Taranaki Mountainairs next Saturday, July 2.

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