Giants lose sight of NBL final four
Story by: PETE McNAE - Photo by: Marc Palmano - Shuttersport
Up until around 6 last night, the Nelson Giants still had the national basketball league playoffs in their sights.
They had to stand on tiptoe, make pretend binoculars with their hands and squint really hard, but at least the door to the final four remained open.
Well, no longer. A 110-84 pounding from the Manawatu Jets in the Trafalgar Centre yesterday means Nelson's playoff streak ends at eight seasons, the Manawatu team securing their first appearance in the Bartercard NBL finals series since 2003.
The Fico Finance Giants never recovered from a 32-16 second quarter, 10 minutes in which the Jets hardly missed, going to halftime 20 points clear, with eight threes made from 10 attempts.
The defensive improvements Nelson had showed in games against Southland, Otago and Hawke's Bay were nowhere to be seen in their two games this weekend with the 110 points scored yesterday the most the Giants had conceded all season.
In fact, Manawatu made it to the finish line still shooting a ridiculous 59 per cent with Jeremiah Trueman and Matt Te Huna at 80 per cent, Zane Meehl at 63 and the key combination of Josh Pace and Nick Horvath each on 58 per cent.
Giants forward Pete Campbell admitted that, without the ability to force the Jets out of their 40min comfort zone, the home team were always playing uphill.
"I thought they made some tough contested shots in the first two quarters and got their confidence but, in the second half, they dictated the game and we didn't respond," he said.
"In our better games, we played for each other and I don't believe that happened from the third quarter [against Saints on Saturday] or today. We had three halves of all the things we had been doing wrong through the season, joined together."
Those things are primarily based around the defensive end of the court. The Giants never totally managed to get their collective heads around help defence this season nor did they box out while rebounding consistently or convincingly.
In transition, 24sec shot clock operator Ange Cameron could barely flick the switch to reset her timer before Jets guards Pace and Chris Hagan had gone the length of the floor for a layup – and the Giants were equally caught on the hop.
When they were forced into a halfcourt game, Trueman and Horvath were tall, talented targets with the Meehl brothers, Hagan and Pace reliably making three-pointers when the ball came back out.
"Give them credit, they shot the ball really well," Campbell said.
"It seemed this weekend that, the second we let our guard down, we were punished and that is a lesson for each and every one of us.
"Sometimes, you could say it's luck that allows a shot to bounce off the top of the backboard and drop through but you don't score 110 points just by being lucky."
On his 30th birthday, Mika Vukona turned in another powerful game for Nelson, scoring 28 points (C'mon Breakers, run a play for him once or twice a season) and adding eight rebounds. He handled Horvath as well as any one man has this season.
Campbell and Phill Jones each chipped in 18 but Nelson's scoring fell away drastically after that with Michael Harrison labouring his way to five points on 20 per cent shooting. He appeared the most affected by the heavy minutes Nelson's top five or six players have shouldered in this short season.
A late-game appearance by rarely-used reserves Aaron Dempster and Mike Karena saw both get on the scoresheet, Dempster banking a three and adding a steal, while Karena drove the baseline for a reverse layup.
Campbell rejected fatigue as a factor in the Giants' faceplant in their run home.
"I can only speak for myself, but I felt like I gave what I had. Tonight and last night's results weren't for a lack of effort," he said.
"This is a bunch of guys who care about this team and care about this town and they take pride in how they perform.
"Maybe we can't reach the playoffs any more but we have one game left here, in our gym, and I can tell you that we will be looking to end the season in the right way and give these Nelson fans a better showing."
The Giants host runaway league leaders, the Auckland Pirates, at 7pm on Saturday.