The Mike Pero Nelson Giants completed their Sal’s NBL regular season with a comfortable 97-74 win against Fluid Recruitment Otago Nuggets on Saturday.
The result was purely academic with the Nuggets having already locked in top spot on the Sal’s NBL ladder and the Giants consigned to sixth place.
There is nothing like carrying winning momentum into the play-offs and the Nuggets will be delighted with the victory and the performance ahead of Tuesday’s play-off clash against South Island rivals Wheeler Motor Company Canterbury Rams.
Mike Karena paced the Giants effort with 26 points, aided and abetted by Tom Ingham (17 points and 6 rebounds).
Darcy Knox top-scored for Otago with 17 points (7/11FG) whilst Richie Rodger and Akiva McBirney-Griffin nailed 13 points each.
Despite being without starters Kane Keil and Jordan Hunt, both resting niggly injuries, the Nuggets with McBirney-Griffin and Rodger filling the spots made a bright start leading 28-21 at quarter time. Rodger, relishing the opportunity had 10 points at that stage.
A score from Ingham gave the Giants a 37-36 lead and with Karena doing damage inside the Nuggets had plenty to chew on.
Tom Gargiulo added to the lavalava clad Nuggets coaching staff’s concerns – the Giants ahead 52-43 at the break. Karena led all scorers at half-time with 17 points.
Karena was soon into the twenties and Ingham made a couple of scores to maintain a double-digit lead for the Giants.
Tysxun Aiolupotea’s neat finish was matched by Knox but when Karena found nothing but net the Nelson lead was the largest of the game at 69-52.
Jordan Ngatai and McBirney-Griffin found an immediate response but it was the Giants game to lose at three-quarter time with a commanding 74-58 lead.
17-year old McBirney-Griffin, the youngest player in Sal’s NBL ’20, took his tally into double figures for the first time but it was the Giants bossing proceedings, 85-63 ahead with six minutes to play.
Nuggets coach Brent Matehaere had his senior players on limited minutes, ahead of the playoffs, and the Giants were in no mood to let a winning opportunity go missing – Aiolupotea putting the icing on a solid showing from Mike Fitchett’s charges.
The Giants will open the play-offs schedule with a sudden death Elimination Final against the Canterbury Rams on Tuesday at 5.30pm.
At 7.30pm that night the Nuggets will meet Manawatu Jets in the Qualifying Final to determine which team will take the higher seeding into the semi-finals.
Sky City MVP Votes:
Mike Karena (Giants-10), Tom Ingham (Giants-7), Jordan Ngatai (Nuggets-4), Akiva McBirney-Griffin (Nuggets-4), Darcy Knox (Nuggets-3), Mika Vukona (Giants-2)