The Night ‘n Day Otago Nuggets are the 2022 Sal’s National Basketball League (NBL) Champions defeating the Auckland Tuatara 81-73 at a packed Eventfinda Stadium on Saturday night .
The NBL was guaranteed a first-time champion before the game began. The Nuggets won the Covid restricted NBL Showdown in 2020 but had never previously contested a full season NBL Grand Final.
In contrast to the Nuggets 30-year association with the NBL the Tuatara are in their rookie NBL season having emerged from the ashes of the extinct Huskies.
In a hugely entertaining Final it was the Nuggets that prevailed thanks to a Grand Final MVP performance from American Keith Williams. The rookie pro out of the University of Cincinnati amassed 34 points on 13 from 23 from the field and 6 from 7 at the free throw line.
Whenever the Nuggets needed a basket it was Williams, the least heralded of the three Nuggets imports, that delivered – 14 of his points coming in the all-important fourth quarter.
Williams received fine support from Tray Boyd III (19 points) and Nikau McCullough (9pts) but particularly the front court duo of Todd Withers and Sam Timmins the pair performing with distinction at both ends of the court.
The Tuatara enjoyed double figure contributions from Siler Schneider (16 points), Rob Loe (13 points and 12 rebounds), Chris Johnson (13 points), Dontae Russo-Nance (11 points and Taki Fahrensohn (10 points) but couldn’t quite replicate their outstanding performances that saw off the wellington Saints and Taranaki Airs.
Understandably, given the occasion, both teams started nervously before Fahrensohn and Withers found their range from deep to initiate scoring action – Nuggets ahead 13-9 at the TV timeout.
Williams dropped 10 points in the opening minutes but the Tuatara finished the opening quarter with a flourish – Schneider with 8 points as the Tuatara led 22-17 at the first quarter break.
Timmins ended a 6-0 Tuatara run but some Russo-Nance offensive quality followed. A corner three was followed by a scoop layup under the imposing figure of Timmins – Tuatara ahead 37-26.
Timmins responded at the offensive end and when McCullough nailed his second three of the period the Tuatara lead was trimmed to six points (39-33).
Otago finished the first half in style or more precisely Boyd finished the spell spectacularly. The southpaw guard peeled off 10 straight points to give the narrowest of leads at half-time (43-42).
Boyd tallied 14 points to lead all scorers at the interval – Williams and Fahrensohn, with 10 apiece, the other two players with double figure numbers next to their name.
The Nuggets defence restricted the Tuatara to two Johnson baskets in the first four minutes after the break although when the big man added two more it was just a 53-51 deficit.
Williams dropped a high arching three and then put the defensive clamps on young Russo-Nance – the Nuggets lead stretching out to 62-52.
Timmins and Withers were doing a great job limiting the effectiveness of the Tuatara big men but Russo-Nance and Schneider scoring drives, in the last thirty seconds of the frame, meant the Nuggets lead had been trimmed to 64-59 with ten minutes to play.
That changed immediately on the restart as Williams converted an And-1 play to punish Fahrensohn’s fourth foul.
Boyd followed Fahrensohn to the bench with his fourth infringement – Loe scoring his first points of the second half to reduce the ‘Nugs’ lead to three.
Williams changed that again with back-to-back scores to make the advantage 8.
Back came the Tuatara with a 7-0 run, the deficit just a single point (74-73) with 3 minutes to plays.
Defensive stops dominated the frantic closing minutes as both teams searched for the game winning play.
They materialised inside the last 60 seconds - Timmins produced a massive defensive play to deny Schneider which allowed that man Williams the opportunity to push the lead out to four points (77-73) with 54 seconds to play.
The Nuggets got another defensive stop on the next Tuatara possession allowing the irresistible Williams to repeat the dosage at the offensive end.
The Nuggets deserved champions!
SCORE: Tuatara 73, Nuggets 81
Tuatara: Schneider 16 points | Loe 13 points & 12 rebounds | Johnson 13 points & 9 rebounds |Russo-Nance 11 points | Fahrensohn 10 points
Nuggets: Williams 34 points | Boyd 19 points) |Timmins 10 points & 8 rebounds | McCullough 9 points | Withers 7 points, 9 rebounds & 3 blocks
Full box score HERE.
Tuatara forward Nick Barrow was assured of being a winner whatever the result. He and partner Sarah welcomed their first child, a daughter, into the world during the Final 6 play-offs.