The Steelformers Taranaki Mountainairs booked themselves a place in the Sal’s NBL Showdown semi-finals with a 99-90 victory against the EnviroNZ Franklin Bulls in Elimination Game 3 at Trusts Arena on Wednesday.
The Bulls were very well served by Isaac Davidson (24 points) and Dom Kelman-Poto (31 points and 10 rebounds) but it was a night when the NBL 20 All-Star 5 pairing of Derone Raukawa and Marcel Jones dominated proceedings.
Jones added 10 rebounds and 7 assists to a game-high equalling 31 points whilst his partner posted equally impressive numbers (28 points, 7 rebounds and 7 assists).
It was a terrific contest and although the Airs could never shake off the gutsy Bulls they always seemed to be bossing the game – holding the lead for 36 of the 40 minutes.
Raukawa had six of his team’s first 12 points as the Airs led by six after five minutes.
Connor Woodbridge provided instant hustle for the Bulls when he entered the fray and a three from the shooting guard meant the locals trailed 14-9.
A stream of turnovers (they had 5 in the first ten minutes) cost the Airs but 9 points from Jones helped the Airs to a 26-18 first-quarter lead.
Raukawa, the NBL’s leading scorer in 2020, made the first 4 points of the next quarter as the Airs moved ten ahead before Everard Bartlett and Davidson completed neat finishes. Another bucket from Davidson, this time uncontested, narrowed the deficit to five (34-29) with 4:30 left in the half.
It was threes all round when Jackson Stubbins (12 points) made a pair of triples to reduce the Airs lead to three with three left in the period. Jones then committed an un-sportsmanlike foul and Nikau McCullough tied proceedings from the line.
Kenneth Tuffin (9 points) had the last say of the half – his corner three giving the Airs a 48-45 half time lead. Jones led all scorers at the interval with 16 points and his 10 boards meant he was just two rebounds shy of 200 for the season.
Kelman-Poto gave the Bulls their first lead of the game and when Bartlett followed up with a three Airs Coach Doug Courtney needed a timeout.
Denhym Brooke ended a 9-0 Bulls run and when Tai Wynyard (11 points and 9 rebounds), winning his personal battle with Sam Timmins, scored inside the Airs were back in front.
Jones took charge of the closing minutes of the third and the Airs were 72-64 ahead at three-quarter time.
Timmins sprung to life with a dunk but Raukawa answered with a 4-point play and the Airs lead was 86-76 with 6 minutes to play.
Kelman-Poto and Davidson were leading the Bulls resistance, the pair pulling the locals to within three (88-85) with under 4 minutes to play.
Raukawa pushed the lead back to six and when Shane Temara (8 points and 7 rebounds) made it eight (93-85) the Bulls charge was finished.
The Airs face a quick turnaround with a semi-final matchup looming against the Manawatu Jets, Thursday evening at 7.30pm.