ARTICLE BY PHILLIP ROLLO
The Canterbury Rams survived a serious scare against a severely depleted Nelson Giants side as their National Basketball League (NBL) game went right down to the final shot.
On a night where the Final Four-bound Rams were backed to win, and win big, it was a daring hook shot from forward Marcel Jones with just one second left on the game clock that ultimately sealed the thrilling 91-90 victory at Cowles Stadium in Christchurch on Thursday.
Jones was fouled in the process of making the game-winning bucket and purposely missed the free-throw, giving the Giants no chance of making a last-ditch attempt to snatch the lead back.
“Credit Nelson. They came in with their backs against the wall and they played tough. Those guys always bring it every night and we were fortunate to get the win,” Jones said after one of the tightest games of the NBL season.
Thanks to a three-point barrage, scoring 14-of-31 from long-range, the Giants kept in front for large parts of the game, only relinquishing the lead midway through the final quarter.
Both teams continued to trade shots throughout the final minutes and Giants captain Sam Dempster, who had a double-double of 11 points and 13 rebounds, appeared to have won the game when he scored from a left-hand lay-up with just 4.1 seconds left.
However, there was enough time for one final Rams possession and Jones stepped up with a moment of magic as the team lifted their record to 10-7 for the season, having now won four straight.
Although the one-point win was a little close for comfort, it was ultimately enough to set up a winner takes third battle with the Super City Rangers on Saturday, the loser landing a date with the unbeaten Wellington Saints in the semifinals and the winner a more favourable fixture against the Southland Sharks.
“The Rangers better be ready because it’s going to be like a playoff game for us,” Jones said.
Giants forward Finn Delany had a whopping 40 points, six assists and eight rebounds in the loss, bouncing back from a quiet performance in their previous match against the Rangers with the loudest of his career, while the rapidly improving Tom Ingham added an equal career-best score of 21.
Jeremy Kendle was the top scorer for the Rams with 27 points while Jones, Marcus Alipate and Ethan Rusbatch contributed 15 points each.
Both teams entered the game without some key strike weapons, McKenzie Moore sitting in the stands with a foot injury and Kyle Adnam and Dion Prewster kept back home in Nelson due to niggles.
Despite coming up short Delany said he was proud of the performance his team gave, particularly without two of their stars and just three players on the bench.
“It’s tough. We gave ourselves an opportunity down the stretch to win it and one shot either way and it would have been our game,” he said.
“With Kyle and Dion out we needed the other boys to step up and everyone was great, everyone fought hard and gave it everything.
“Everyone has been working super hard regardless of the record we’ve had this year, so it’s good for Ingy and Ali [Granger] and some of the other boys. They all did really well, Nic Trathen, Bronson [Beri] and Sammy, they just came in with confidence and without that we wouldn’t have had that opportunity down the stretch.”
Adnam and Prewster are expected to take the court in their final game of the season against Saints on Saturday.
Canterbury Rams 91 (Jeremy Kendle 27, Marcel Jones 15, Marcus Alipate 15, Ethan Rusbatch 15) Nelson Giants 90 (Finn Delany 40, Tom Ingham 21, Ali Granger 11, Sam Dempster 11). 1Q: 19-25, HT: 43-50, 3Q: 68-68