The Mike Pero Nelson Giants became the first team to be eliminated in the Sal’s NBL Showdown after going down 93-89 to the Wheeler Motor Company Canterbury Rams in the 6th v 7th play-off game at Trusts Arena on Tuesday night.
For the Rams, it’s a quick turnaround as they face the Auckland Huskies in the 5.30pm game on Wednesday in their bid to win four games in five days to lift the 2020 Showdown Trophy.
When Reuben Te Rangi (11 points) put the Rams up 87-76 with four minutes to play it looked as if the Cantabrians would cruise to victory. However, they failed to score from the field in the last four minutes and a fast-finishing Giants almost ran them down.
Tysxun Aiolupotea scored on successive possessions and when Nic Trathen reduced the advantage to five (87-82) with 2:30 to play Rams coach Mick Downer needed a timeout.
Vukona (14 points and 16 rebounds) made it a four-point game (87-83) inside the final 50 seconds. The Giants failed to score on an in-bounds pass and in a mad scramble for possession Bloxham was charged with an un-sportsmanlike foul. Taylor Britt (15 points, 8 rebounds and 7 assists) appeared to have iced the game from the subsequent free throws to send the Giants home.
However, Nelson wasn’t going without a fight as Mike Karena (19 points) and Dane Brooks made triples inside the final 21 seconds to make it a two-point game.
Sam Smith (11 points) earned another trip to the foul-line and finally, the Rams could celebrate.
The Giants had won the previous two meetings between the teams and they made the better start. Vukona made the opening basket of the 50th NBL game of the season and Ingham dropped a couple of threes as Nelson forged an early 16-7 lead.
A couple of offensive breakdowns didn’t help the Rams cause but they were back in business by quarter time trailing by just four points (30-26).
A Quintin Bailey (19 points and 8 rebounds) three moved the Rams to within one (35-34) but Josh Leger ensured the Giants maintained the lead.
That didn’t last long with the outstanding Thomas Webley (13 points and 7 rebounds), Britt and Te Rangi scores giving the Rams a 43-39 lead with four minutes remaining in the first half.
Jack Exeter, making a welcome return after injury, knocked down a corner three. However Karena’s inside make kept the Giants in touch – down 49-47 at the break. Ingham led all scorers at that stage with 15 points, Bailey not far behind with 13.
Talma executed an athletic block but landed awkwardly and had to be assisted from the court with an ankle injury. Karena took immediate advantage, his 200th point of the season giving the Giants a 58-56 lead.
Smith restored the Rams lead and Webley extended it – an absorbing third period, in which the lead changed or was tied on ten occasions, finished with the Rams 76-66 ahead.
Vukona was into double-double territory but his tech foul gifted Britt a point – the Rams ahead 83-72 with under 6 minutes to play.
That frantic finish then ensued.