The Steelformers Taranaki Mountainairs kept their hopes of a coveted place in the top-two on the NBL ladder alive with a hard-fought 102-95 win against the Mike Pero Nelson Giants at Trusts Arena on Wednesday.
The two teams headed into the contest with contrasting needs. The Giants are set to be playing in the elimination game (6th v 7th) against the Rams next week and were eager to build confidence ahead of that game whilst the Airs were trying to join the Jets and Nuggets at the top of the table.
The Airs kept their aspirations alive and the Giants, despite the loss, will take confidence from a spirited, improved display. The Giants were well served by Tom Ingham (24 points), Nic Trathen (20 points), Mike Karena (18 points) and Dane Brooks (12 points). Mika Vukona was all action recording 8 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists and 3 steals.
Marcel Jones scored 23 points for the Airs and the excellent Shane Temara produced 20 points (8/11FG). Derone Raukawa was hounded by the Giants defence but still produced 15 points and 11 assists while the ever-improving Denhym Brooke (10 points) and Mitch Dance (13 points) were also in good touch.
For the first time this season, Giants coach Mike Fitchett was able to start his Tall Blacks trio of Mika Vukona, Josh Bloxham and Mike Karena. The threesome helped give the Giants a 13-7 lead although Jones and Temara soon wiped away that advantage.
Dance and Trathen exchanged triples at the end of the quarter – the Airs ahead 28-24.
Josh Leger, having had a charge of Unduly Rough Play dropped by the GRP (Game Review Panel), was free to play and his neat baseline jumper kept the Giants within four.
Jones became the first player in double figures, Trathen second, the teams all square at 41 points each with four to play in the period.
Temara had the last say of the half but it was the Giants with the advantage 51-48.
Raukawa, kept to 4 points in the opening half landed a triple and with Temara scoring in the same fashion the Airs were 65-60 ahead.
Dance made his second triple of the game but Brooks did likewise to minimise the Airs lead – the Nakki ahead 74-67 at the three-quarter mark.
Karena muscled his way to basket for the opening score of the final frame and with the Giants mounting an 11-6 run Doug Courtney found his team just two points ahead (80-78) and in need of a timeout.
Vukona’s battle with Jones was an absorbing sideshow as the Giants closed to within one (84-83) with four minutes remaining.
The Giants missed a couple of golden opportunities to go ahead, Kenneth Tuffin making them pay from beyond the arc.
Again Vukona dragged the Giants to within one but just as an upset looked possible Jones stepped up with a long two – 91-88 with 2:11 to play.
Brooke landed a corner three and when a Giants baseline inbounds went astray Jones and the hard working Brooke were finally able to end the Giants resistance.
The Giants slip to 4-9 while the Airs improve to 8-5 and join the Jets and Nuggets at the top of the table.
Sky City MVP Votes:
Marcel Jones (Airs-9), Shane Temara (Airs-8), Derone Raukawa (Airs-6), Tom Ingham (Giants-5), Nic Trathen (Giants-2).