The Canterbury Rams claimed a cliffhanger 79-75 victory over a competitive Otago Nuggets squad Saturday, sending the visitors home with a 0-2 road record to open their season.
Headlined by no less than six players making their debut, the Rams were in for a big battle early as the Nuggets raced to an early lead off the back of Sam Timmins. Some early foul trouble impacted both teams, particularly the Rams with Taylor Britt forced to sit just over a minute into the game after two early fouls.
Despite the early running by the Nuggets, the Rams steadied late in the first and held a 21-16 lead at the first break.
A tough arm-wrestle ensued during the second period as both teams went basket-for-basket, but as the game progressed Joe Cook-Green started to find his stroke and looked dangerous. The star guard would go on to finish with a game-high 30 points.
In an exciting final stanza the Nuggets threatened on numerous occasions as a grandstand finish was on offer, only for Rams guard Taylor Britt, who had been well held, to deliver two telling blows with strong drives through traffic to the basket.
As good as they were throughout, the Nuggets just couldn't stop Cook-Green, who along with Mike Karena and Britt, found a way to will the home team over the line.
For the Rams fans the win represented a changing of the guard following the much talked about off-season departure of Mick Downer along with four players (Salt, Bailey, Exeter, Albertsen) to the Hawke's Bay Hawks. Those gaps offered up opportunity, gleefully taken by the likes of Hunter Adam (17yrs old), Josh Book (18), Kaia Isaac (18) and Walter Brown (18).
In the hot seat while awaiting the arrival of new head coach Judd Flavell, experienced assistant Ben Sheat breathed a sigh of relief at the final buzzer. With his job done, he's expected to hand over to Flavell next week.
Both teams should have some big additions over the coming days - the Rams to welcome local Max Darling and imports Ryan Taylor and Sunday Dech, while the Nuggets will also be strengthened with imports Taj McCall, Todd Withers and Keith Williams all set to arrive in New Zealand.
SCORE: Rams 79, Nuggets 75
Rams: Joe Cook-Green 30 PTS, 4 3PT | Mike Karena 19 PTS, 8 REB | Taylor Britt 12 PTS, 6 AST
Nuggets: Sam Timmins 24 PTS, 14 REB | Nikau McCullough 16 PTS | Darcy Knox 10 PTS
Full box score HERE.
Stuff MVP Votes
Joe Cook-Green (Rams) - 10 votes
Sam Timmins (Nuggets) - 8 votes
Nikau McCullough (Nuggets) - 5 votes
Mike Karena (Rams) - 5 votes
Taylor Britt (Rams) - 1 vote
Darcy Knox (Nuggets) - 1 vote
Rams - Sunday May 8 vs Auckland Tuatara
Nuggets - Saturday May 7 vs Wellington Saints
Round 1 Sal's NBL Schedule