BOTH of the top two teams in the New Zealand National Basketball League (NZNBL) after the regular season were eliminated in their sole final, with the Nelson Giants being the latest one to fall, going down to Otago Nuggets by 15 points. In a battle between the second and third placed sides after 18 rounds, it was the latter to emerged victorious, winning three of the four quarters on their way to an 89-74 win to face Auckland Tuatara in the NZNBL Grand Final today.
NELSON GIANTS 17 | 19 | 19 | 19 (74)
OTAGO NUGGETS 20 | 28 | 18 | 23 (89)
Seconds seeds Nelson Giants went into their semi-final having seen the one side above them – Taranaki Airs – bow out the night before. In the second semi-final, the Giants took on fellow South Island competitor Otago Nuggets, a side that they had beaten on both times of asking by 19 points in Round 1 and then 11 points just over two months ago on June 4. It had been a while since the pair had faced off, and the Giants had actually lost their last two matches coming into the Final 6, going down to Wellington Saints (10 points) and Taranaki Airs (31) to have some cause for concern despite finishing second.
The last time these teams played, Jarrod West had a day out for the Giants amassing 27 points and 10 assists, while the Nuggets duo of Keith Williams and Nikau McCullough had scored 23 points apiece. On this occasion, it was Trey Mourning who started strongly with seven points – having scored just six in their last meeting – and four rebounds as Nelson took an early lead. Sam Timmins was making his presence felt off the boards, as Williams’ last two baskets in the final minute lead the Nuggets to a three-point lead at quarter time.
That lead blew out to 12 points by half-time as McCullough scored 11 points into the second term, and Timmins was really starting to influence. A huge dunk by Samuel Thompson and long-range make from West kept the Giants in the hunt, but the nuggets were keeping the Giants at arms-length. Billy Boyd III was slowly building up some nice numbers, as Williams stretched the lead out to 13 points with two minutes to play in the half. A series of triples in the dying stages from both sides – two from West, on from Nic Trathen and one each to Boyd and Todd Withers meant the Nuggets went into the main break 48-36 ahead.
West and Mourning continued to chip away at the Nuggets’ lead, but Williams and Timmins – along with the Nuggets’ long-range shooting was proving to be a problem. Sam Dempster scored what would be his only two points of the match late in the third term, as Nelson won the quarter by a point but the margin still stood at 11. Despite getting it back to single digits and thereabouts throughout the first half of the final term, the Giants got not make meaningful impact as Timmins, Boyd and Williams all continued to press, and the underdogs reigned supreme to beat the Giants for the first time this season and book their spot in the 2022 NZNBL Grand Final.
Both sides put on a show from range with the Giants nailing 12 triples to the Nuggets’ 10, and also taking control of the assists count (17-12). That did not seem to both the Nuggets though, as their 53 per cent from inside the arc – most notably their 40 points to 12 inside the paint helped them get past the Giants. They also had four more rebounds (43-39), and comfortably won the steals (11-4) off the back of a massive turnover differential (6-15), and were able to score 15-4 points from turnovers.
All five starters reached double-figure points for the Nuggets, lead by Timmins with a double-double of 20 points and 11 rebounds. Boyd (20 points, nine rebounds and five assists) almost had one too, while Williams (18 points, four rebounds, four assists and five steals), McCullough (13 points, four rebounds) and Withers (11 points, six rebounds and three steals) were also prolific. For the Giants, it was a triple threat, with Mourning (22 points, nine rebounds) and Thompson (22 points, seven rebounds) crashing the boards consistently, while West shot six three-pointers and had a match-high eight assists on his way to 20 points and five rebounds.
The Otago Nuggets face Auckland Tuatara in today’s NZNBL Grand Final, tipping-off at 7:30pm local time with both sides having to play a third match in four days having come through the Final 6 the hard way.