THE Taranaki Mountainairs have kept their hopes of a top-four finish in the New Zealand National Basketball League (NZNBL) well and truly alive with a 10-point triumph over the second-placed Nelson Giants at Trafalgar Centre on Saturday evening.
Despite coming into the game as underdogs, the Airs sent a message to the rest of the competition with a commanding performance over one of the title favourites. The game was tightly contested in the first three quarters before the visiting side stormed home in the fourth to take a surprising lead and finished the game in style, with the final margin sitting in double-digits.
The win sees the Airs move to a record of six wins and five losses, just out of the top four due to percentage, and in a promising position with the season closer to finishing than starting. On the other hand, Nelson slips to eight wins and four losses, with the possibility of dropping out of the top two increasing.
For the Airs, Anthony Hilliard led from the front on the offensive end, finishing with a team-high effort of 20 points and creating a real spark on the offensive end. He had some good help from teammate Shaun Willett, who had 18 points of his own to go with 11 rebounds, finishing with an eye-catching double-double.
Samuel Thompson fought bravely to get the Giants over the line, essentially acting as a one-man show for much of the game. He finished with a game-high 25 points, producing bucket after bucket to keep Nelson in the contest.
Both sides relied quite heavily on the three ball, not always to the best effect. The Giants just got the upper hand in long-range shooting, and it was one of the factors in almost getting them to a winning score.
It was a win that was set up by a fourth quarter charge from the Airs, with the game pretty close heading into the last 10 minutes. However, the visitors delivered their highest scoring quarter of the game in the final period, completely outplaying the opposition and finishing the game in style to run out 10-point winners. It was an impressive triumph for the Airs, who took a massive scalp and put themselves in the conversation for possible contenders.
Next up, the Airs will look to keep their winning streak going when they take on the Wellington Saints on Sunday afternoon. Meanwhile, the Giants will look to bounce back when they take on the Southland Sharks next Saturday night.