Misfiring Giants sink into mire
Story by: PETE McNAE - Photo by: Evan Barnes
Brian Rampton is heading home.
The Nelson Giants' 75-72 national basketball league loss to Taranaki in the Trafalgar Centre yesterday afternoon was a costly one on several fronts.
It cost the Giants the season series with Taranaki, who also won their home game, giving the Mountain Airs an edge in any countback.
It cost the Giants their unbeaten record in Nelson. While they had struggled on the road, at least the Fico Finance Giants had been secure at home.
It cost the Giants momentum and confidence leading into the southern swing road trip, with games in Invercargill and Dunedin on Saturday and Sunday.
And it cost the Giants the Brian Rampton Memorial Trophy, a precious piece of silverware the Nelson club had guarded closely over the last three seasons.
What a shame they couldn't guard the Mountain Airs as closely.
In a messy match where neither side looked like it was adding the fine touches for a Bartercard NBL playoff run, Nelson simply never got started.
Coach Chris Tupu had to call his first timeout after 2min when his side trailed 9-0, but it got worse before it got better. The game was almost four minutes old before Giants forward Pete Campbell made a jumpshot to prise the lid off the basket – Taranaki were already 12 points clear.
In a game which saw both teams shoot in the 30 per cent range and a combined final score of 147 points, 12 is a healthy buffer.
The Giants were able to close the lead to six by the end of the quarter and went six clear in the second period, but there was no flow, no fluency, no flair.
And the Mountain Airs love it that way. Boasting a frontcourt hewn from the side of their local mountain, the Taranaki team thrive on the grind.
Giants guard Josh Bloxham, who sidestepped the Breakers' celebration party to catch a plane home for yesterday's match, said Nelson's attempts to disrupt the visitors' game backfired.
"We tried to switch things up on defence and give them some different challenges, but they actually disrupted us more successfully," he said.
"We made a terrible start and needed to take control. They were pretty good at stopping us getting anything going at all."
It didn't help that the Giants seemed as flat as a Rai Saddle possum.
By halftime, captain Phill Jones, the league's leading scorer, had five points and had missed six shots. Michael Harrison, coming off a 28-point night against Otago, had taken five shots for four points. Sam Dempster and Darryl Jones were a combined two from 12, many of those misses within spitting distance of the basket.
Only matching misfires from the opposition allowed Nelson to go to halftime ahead, 36-33. But that lead was erased in another sluggish start, Taranaki taking over after two minutes of the third quarter and squeezing the Giants out of the game.
Campbell, the Giants' leading scorer with 19 points in a partial return to form, said the openings to each half were toxic.
"We know the importance of coming out and matching or bettering what teams throw at us," he said.
"Those starts are on us as players, we have to take full responsibility for what happened out there this afternoon."
Taranaki took a 54-51 lead into the last period, which finally saw the game open out a little as each team tried to drag themselves out of the quicksand.
Harrison converted twice on dunks, Darryl Hudson responded with seemingly unhindered drives to the basket past flat-footed defenders.
A Bloxham three-pointer cut Taranaki's lead in half but Jones threw away a potential game-tying possession then missed a pair of free throws – something you won't see again if you watch Giants games from now until November.
But he and Bloxham worked in tandem for a steal at halfcourt that Campbell turned into a three-point play, just a point separating the sides with seconds to play.
Hudson made a pair of free-throws and, despite the Giants getting a couple of decent looks at the basket, the shots that had been missed for 39-and-a-half minutes were missed again.
"We gave them too much to start with and kept on letting them have their way," Bloxham said.
"We didn't dive on the floor, we didn't commit hard fouls instead of giving up layups, we did nothing to take them out of how they wanted to play."
Campbell's 19 points and 10 rebounds were a bright light on a dismal afternoon while Harrison finished with a double-double he will probably choose to file under "could do better".
Hudson scored 18 of his 25 in the second half, mostly through aggressive moves to the basket, with former Giant Chris Daniel making three-pointers at vital times.
"It wasn't just the fact they scored, it was when they scored," Campbell said. "It seemed that every time we made a run, we shot ourselves in the foot."
In hindsight, the Giants would probably have missed.