Finals now in sight after Airs performance

Monday, Jul 25 2022

Finals now in sight after Airs performance

Basketball New Zealand

The Night n' Day Otago Nuggets have fallen short of the Steelformers Taranaki Airs in a crucial contest for both teams - the visitors splitting the Southern Swing with a 98-73 win on Sunday afternoon and moving to 10 wins in one of the franchise's best ever seasons.

The Final 6 is now well and truly in sight of the Airs, perhaps even a top-two spot and an easier path to glory. However, the same can't be said for the Nuggets as a third loss in their last four home outings almost certainly keeps them in a battle just to make the playoffs.

The Nuggets have make-or-break clashes against the Sharks and Bulls to come, both at the Edgar Centre, though home court advantage isn't really applicable given their recent run of outs on their local boards.

In a hotly anticipated clash both teams were missing key players out on national team duty - the Airs minus Tai Wynyard and Richie Rodger, the Nuggets without Sam Timmins. Meanwhile, Nikau McCullough was also sidelined with illness for the home team.

Coming off an upset loss on Friday night against the Southland Sharks, the Airs immediately made their intentions known at the Edgar Centre with stars Javonte Douglas and Anthony Hilliard showing their scoring prowess, leading the visitors to a 25-17 start. 

Reminded of the importance of the game and what was at stake, the Nuggets found their groove early in the second and built off some slick play at both ends by star guard Tray Boyd, while Keith Williams was finding his way to the basket a little too easy at times.

Boyd helped himself to 14 points in a second-quarter blitz in a dazzling display that brought the large crowd to life.

Though the Nuggets won the second quarter 28-24, the Airs still held sway at the half (49-45) and would have been well pleased to have held Todd Withers scoreless.   

That narrow margin would soon blow out as the Airs hit the accelerator early in the third period, leaving the Nuggets in their dust as they loaded up on triples mixed with endless drives to the basket. Shaun Willett and Marcel Jones joined the scoring party as the Airs mastered a 35-14 quarter - seemingly pushing the game beyond reach for the Nuggets.

Despite trying to make inroads early in the last quarter, the Nuggets just couldn't match the power of the Airs' triple-headed import monster.

With Hilliard, Willett and Douglas off the leash, the game was done. Hats off also to Jones who finished with a perfect 19 points without a miss.

Both Williams and Boyd did their bit for the Nuggets with a collective 56 of their team's 73 points, but they lacked a third scorer and it showed in the final result.

SCORE: Nuggets 73, Airs 98

Nuggets: Boyd 29 PTS | Williams 27 PTS

Airs: Hilliard 25 PTS | Douglas 23 PTS | Willett 18 PTS, 10 REB | Jones 19 PTS

Full box score HERE.


Sharks pull off another stunner to deflate Air’s wining streak

The Taranaki Steelformers Airs Sal’s National Basketball (NBL) winning streak came to an end at five after an upset 81-74 defeat at the hands of the Southland Sharks at ILT Stadium Southland, Invercargill, on Friday night.

The high-flying Airs led the lowly Sharks by as many as 17 points at one stage and were still 40-28 ahead at half-time.

However, after a listless first half display the Sharks found their bite in the second spell outscoring the Airs 53-34 to pull off a terrific come from behind victory.

Daishon Knight (21 points), Alonzo Burton (17 points) and Brayden Inger (12 points) all scored in double figures in the second half for the rejuvenated Sharks.

Sharks centre Romaro Gill scored 9 points but his 18 rebounds and 5 blocks were a major reason for the contest being transformed after the interval.

Anthony Hilliard led the Airs with 23 points, Javonte Douglas had a huge double-double of 19 points and 17 rebounds  and there were other double figure efforts from Marcel Jones (11 points) and Shaun Willett (10 points) but it was a disappointing shooting night for the talented quartet that made a combined 25 from 69 (36%) from the field.     

Five points from Scott Telfer late in the opening quarter enabled the Airs to take a 19-13 lead into the first break.

Hilliard opened his account with the first points of the second and when he found Willett for an alley-oop dunk the lead was 29-17.

Encouraged by the home support the Sharks responded with baskets from Knight and Gill before Hilliard made a brace of triples to quieten the Sharks locals.

Mojave King scored from an Andrew Wheeler assist but the Sharks, looking to play spoiler, were 40-28 in arrears at half-time.

Inger nailed back to back threes from opposite corners as the Sharks opened the second half with a 13-2 burst to pull within a single point. With a Gill two-handed flush the run was extended by two and the Sharks had recovered from a 17 points deficit to take the lead.

However 8 points from Douglas meant the Airs held a 59-56 three-quarter time lead.

Alonzo Burton lit up the early part of the fourth with a brace of triples – Hilliard answered from beyond the arc himself – the Airs behind 70-69 at the mid-point of the final period.

Hilliard tied the contest after a Knight layup before a Willett put back with 2:41 to play gave Taranaki a 74-72 advantage.

Knight and Inger made crucial scored before an inspired Burton made his fifth triple of the game with 25 seconds to play and the hosts were 79-74 ahead.

An Airs turnover and a pair of Knight free-throws made it successive wins against a top-three team for the orange army to celebrate.

Both teams were missing New Zealand 3X3 Tall Blacks with Sharks forward Dom Kelman-Poto absent along with the Airs duo of Richie Rodger and Tai Wynyard – all Birmingham bound for the Commonwealth Games.

Next up for both teams is a trip to Dunedin to take on Otago Nuggets (8-7). The Airs will need to move on quickly ahead of the second instalment of their Southern Swing on Sunday while the Sharks will look forward to the local derby fixture on Wednesday.

SCORE: Sharks 81, Airs 74

Sharks: Knight 21 PTS | Burton 17 PTS (5/8 3PG) | Inger 12 PTS & 11 REBS |  Gill 9 PTS, 17 REBS & 4 BLOCKS

Airs: Hilliard 23 PTS |Douglas 19 PTS & 17 REBS | Jones 11 PTS | Willett 10 PTS & 12 REBS 

Full box score HERE.