AFTER conceding an early lead, Otago Nuggets clicked into gear and answered every challenge a Hawke’s Bay Hawks outfit could throw at them, running out 11-point winners in the first match of the Final 6 series last night. In picking up the victory, the Nuggets not only stayed alive in the final series, but knew they had the extra day off before facing the Nelson Giants on Friday. Though the Hawks always stayed within touch in the do-or-die elimination final, they could never regain that first quarter lead and the Nuggets came away with the 91-80 victory.
OTAGO NUGGETS 22 | 20 | 16 | 33 (91)
HAWKE’S BAY HAWKS 17 | 18 | 16 | 29 (80)
Otago Nuggets came into the clash as strong favourites over the Hawke’s Bay Hawks, winning four of their past five games, including one over the Hawks. Though the Hawks had been inconsistent of late – winning two out of their past five – one of them had ben just a two-point defeat at the hands of the Nuggets. The Hawks had done a lot of their work early, before faltering mid-season and doing enough to scrape into sixth spot on the ladder. They knew they had the capacity to win, and it certainly looked like it early as they lead by as much as four points on multiple times throughout the first term.
Derone Raukawa lead the Hawks scoring with five points across the first quarter, as Ethan Rusbatch and Quintin Bailey – who came on to spark the side late – scored four. Bailey’s four points were all the Hawks added after leading 13-9, as the Nuggets piled on 13 of the next 17 points, including a 9-0 run at one point. Keith Williams (nine points) and Billy Boyd III (seven) were proving a problem for the Hawks, and the Nuggets continued to build on that early lead by extending it to seven at the main break.
Neither side was particularly efficient shooting the rock, registering just over a third of their shots accurately, whilst both were impacting off the board. With more than double the amount of turnovers to the Hawks in the first 20 minutes, something had to change for the sixth placed sides. While they did reduce their turnovers slightly in the second half, and win both the rebound and assist battle, they could not get closer than two points late in the third. Rusbatch and Raukawa had added seven consecutive points to close the deficit to just two with 2:15 on the clock, only for Nikau McCullough to score the last five points of the quarter and put the low-scoring term to bed and his side up by seven, 58-51.
The third stanza might have been low-scoring, but the final chapter of the match was anything but, as a whopping 62 points were scored, 13 more than the first term and 30 more than the third. Boyd III and McCullough continued on their merry way, with Williams remaining consistent when on the court. Off the boards, Sam Timmins was having an impact on his way to a double-double as the Nuggets were proving too strong with those four at the helm. The Hawks relied a lot on Rusbatch for his scoring – particularly from range – with Jarrod Kenny putting in work to come close to a triple-double, and Hyrum Harris also trying hard. Jack Salt was nullified by Timmins in a fantastic head-to-head win for the Nuggets.
Hawke’s Bay Hawks actually won the rebound count 49-44, as well as the assist count (18-11) and steals (9-6). It was the Nuggets’ ability to pick up the scoring efficiency in the final term to put their match total up to 42 per cent, and making 19 of 25 from the charity stripe compared to the Hawks’ eight of 14. They also had six less turnovers (14-20) and scored more points in the paint (50-40), from turnovers (19-17) and second chance points (17-10).
Boyd III was the clear star of the show, putting up a massive 30 points – 11 of 17 from the field including two of five from long-range – five rebounds, five assists and two steals in the win. Williams (24 points, six rebounds and three assists) also nailed two triples from five attempts, as did McCullough (18 points, five rebounds). Timmins finished with a double-double of 12 points and 10 rebounds. For the Hawks, Rusbatch banged down 29 points – four of 11 from beyond the arc – and four rebounds, while Harris (16 points, seven rebounds, four steals and three assists) and Kenny (10 points, nine rebounds and seven assists) also tried hard across multiple categories.
Otago Nuggets will now advance to the semi-final against Nelson Giants tomorrow, with the winner to play the winner of the other semi-final between Taranaki Airs and Auckland Tuatara in the grand final on Saturday.