The Fluid Recruitment Otago Nuggets are through to their first-ever NBL Grand Final. The Nuggets beat Wheeler Motor Company Canterbury Rams 97-79 in the first Sal’s NBL semi-final on Thursday at Trusts Arena.
The Rams found the rigours of a third game in three days just too much but they leave NBL 20 with their heads high. The youngest team in the league overcame a horrific injury toll to mount a spirited playoff run.
The Nuggets campaign has been built around a strong team culture and the excellence of Jarrod Kenny, Jordon Ngatai and Jordan Hunt.
The trio didn’t disappoint in this one. Hunt finished with a season-high 33 points plus 10 rebounds whilst Ngatai (23 points, 6 rebounds and 7 assists) and Kenny (16 points, 7 assists and 3 steals) were all class for the blue and gold.
Taylor Britt, one of only four players to score over 300 points in NBL ’20, scored 12 points for the Rams. His guard colleague Sam Smith scored 13, Tom Webley managed 12 while Reuben Te Rangi and Alex Talma contributed 10 points each.
Talma, returning after sustaining what appeared to be a season-ending ankle injury just 48 hours earlier, made a surprise start for the Rams. The power forward scored 8 first-quarter points but the early form of Ngatai and Hunt gave the Nuggets a 15-10 lead. Josh Aitcheson weighed in with a couple of baskets as Otago led 29-22 at quarter time.
Kenny’s three stretched the lead to double digits and when the veteran Tall Black guard waltzed through the Rams defence coach Mick Downer needed a timeout.
Richie Rodger and Quintin Bailey exchanged threes, the Nuggets still ten points ahead after a Ngatai And-1 score. Kenny and Hunt added to the Rams woes before a response from Ben Carlile-Smith and Britt.
The Nuggets were well in control at half-time leading 54-39 on the back of a 60% (21/35FG) shooting performance - Hunt’s 17 points a significant factor in their advantageous position.
The Rams needed a second-half comeback similar to that achieved against the Huskies the previous evening.
Te Rangi blocked a Ngatai shot on the opening play of the second half, the Otago man returning ‘the favour’ 60 seconds later.
Kenny was putting together a dominating display and when he fed Hunt for the big man to score the Nuggs were 63-43 ahead. Coach Downer incurred a technical to gift Ngatai another point.
Toby Gillooly and Britt, the first Cantabrian into double figures, scored on the resumption but the Nuggets were having little trouble in scoring – a floater from Roger giving them a 74-50 lead with 3 minutes left in the third.
Te Rangi and Talma found scores for the Rams but Hunt’s third three of the game gave the Nuggs a mountain to climb trailing 81-57 at three-quarter time.
The Rams gave it their best shot in the fourth but couldn’t get out of base camp as the Nuggets wrapped up a deserved victory and a place in the Grand Final on Sunday against Manawatu Jets or Taranaki Mountainairs.