Wellington Saints fell Nelson's Giants in style
Not many teams could overcome the loss of Lindsay Tait and carry on winning.
But so stacked with talent are this year's Wellington Saints they were able to knock over fellow heavyweights Nelson Giants 104-99 tonight without their star playmaker.
Tait was ruled out of the game at TSB Bank Arena due to a chipped bone in his left thumb, suffered in Tuesday's win over Waitakere.
The Saints are waiting on medical reports to learn how long he will be sidelined for but the point guard is likely to wear a cast if necessary and play in next month's Final Four.
His absence meant Corey Webster and Dillon Boucher shared ball handling duties and while the journey up court wasn't always pretty they got the job done against some fierce Giants pressure.
Webster (32 points) also carried a big scoring load, while Rick Rickert proved he is a cut above the NBL, feasting on the undersized Giants for 33 points and 15 rebounds, missing only three shots from the floor.
The American centre had called for a killer instinct and he backed it up, chest thumping and screaming as he made big play after big play.
His team-mates followed and on a red letter day for Kiwi basketball it was appropriate the Saints celebrated Steven Adams' NBA call-up with a rousing performance.
Coach Pero Cameron had them wired and while the Giants led early and fought back strongly late the hosts remain top of the table with a 12-2 record.
The pace was frantic right from the tip off and players were gasping for air at the end of the first quarter.
The intensity was a complete contrast to Tuesday's romp as two talented and well-coached teams went at it.
Back to back Jordan Mills threes gave the Saints a seven point edge at halftime, and Mika Vukona then compounded Nelson's woes by falling into foul trouble.
The Giants - who launched a massive comeback to defeat the Saints in Nelson earlier this season - fought back gamely and a Josh Pace floater cut the lead to four with 20 seconds to play.
But the Saints hung on and now fly south to play the second-placed and well rested Otago Nuggets in Dunedin on Sunday.
It may well decide the regular season title and the big question is how much the Saints have left in the tank.
Also tonight, fourth-placed Southland exploded for a 39 point fourth quarter to defeat Manawatu 94-89 and move to 10-3, four points clear of the fifth-placed Jets.
Wellington Saints 104 (Rick Rickert 33, Corey Webster 32, Bryant Markson 20) Nelson Giants 99 (Josh Pace 23, Erron Maxey 21, Mika Vukona 21). 1Q: 24-25, HT: 55-48, 3Q: 81-69