The Wellington Saints' National Basketball League three-peat chances remain alive but only after an overtime instant classic.
Behind 36 points, eight rebounds and six assists from point guard Jason Crowe, the Saints shook off foul trouble and a 17-point third quarter deficit to defeat the regular season champion Bay Hawks 94-88 in the second semifinal tonight.
The Saints will face the second-seeded Auckland Pirates in tomorrow night's NBL championship game at TSB Bank Arena in the capital (tip-off 6pm), after the Pirates ran away from the Manawatu Jets 104-88 earlier in the night.
Crowe, who had just three points in the first half, took over the game late in the fourth quarter and overtime as the hometown Saints, the two-time defending champions, dealt with having starter Arthur Trousdell, along with Jeremy Kench and Damien Ekenasio on the bench after fouling out.
Crowe had a chance to win it in regulation, but his shot at the final buzzer came up short amid contact in the lane.
He scored 10 of the Saints' 16 points in overtime, finishing the game 11-of-25 from the field, 4-of-12 on three-point attempts and 10-of-10 from the foul-line.
The Hawks came up empty on their first six possessions of overtime, allowing the Saints to build an eight-point margin, which held up amid late intentional fouls.
With the Saints trailing by 17 points at the 5:44 mark of the third period, Crowe got the rally started, scoring 11 straight points as Wellington closed the quarter on an 11-3 run to get within four points.
After Jarrod Kenny hit a three to halt the Saints' momentum to open the fourth quarter, the Saints then ran off seven of the next nine points to trail by two points and force a timeout by Hawks coach Paul Henare. The game remained tight for the rest of the fourth period, with neither team leading by more than three points.
Kenny finished with a team-high 20 points for the Hawks, who shot just 22 percent (5/23) on three-point attempts and missed 11 free-throws. Kareem Johnson had 17 points, Paora Winitana and Galen Young 15 each.
For the Saints, who connected on 35-of-67 from the floor, Ernest Scott with 16 points and Arthur Trousdell 10 points were the only other Wellington players in double-figure scoring.
The Hawks early break came as the Saints went scoreless for the last 2:28 of the half, opening up a 10-point lead at the main break.
Casey Frank picked up his third foul on a blocking call with 6:02 left in the second, with Young making the lay-up for a 31-23 lead. With Frank's presence in the middle, particularly on offence, the Saints struggled to get open looks, while the Hawks defence also lifted, forcing two shot-clock violations.
Wayward interior passing from the Saints, leading to turnovers, saw the Hawks jump out to an eight-point lead after three minutes of the second period.
Earlier, in a back-and-forward opening period, the Saints scored just one point, via a Kench free-throw, in the last three minutes, allowing the Hawks to build a six-point lead.
In the first semifinal at TSB Bank Arena, the Pirates proved too deep for the Jets, running away with a 104-88 win, led by 25 points from centre Alex Pledger and 23 points from import forward Ismail Muhammad.
The Pirates used a 19-6 run to end the third period to surge through to the franchise's first championship game. Previous Auckland franchises have combined to win nine titles, the Stars with seven and Auckland with the first two in the early-80s.
A pair of Muhammad threes mid-way through the third quarter briefly gave Auckland a six-point lead at 60-54 but the Jets quickly closed it to two points.
It was the start of the end of Manawatu though, as the Pirates ripped off the next 10 points to lead 70-58 and finished the third quarter on a 19-6 burst.
Ron Dorsey got the stretch started with a three-point play in which he seemed to hang in the air forever before drawing the foul. Tait connected on a corner three, before Dillon Boucher stole the inbounds pass for the lay-in, then after a Jets miss, Pledger went past 20 points with a make down low.
The Pirates led 79-64 after three quarters, outscoring Manawatu 31-20 in the period, and soon stretched their lead to 18 points with a Brook Ruscoe corner three that effectively put the game out of reach.
Pledger, who had 19 points at halftime, finished with a game-high total on 10-of-12 shooting, while adding 13 rebounds and five blocks. Muhammad's 23 points came on 8-of-11 shooting as the Pirates shot 60 percent from the floor for the game and 40 percent on three-point attempts.
The Pirates also got 17 points from import Ron Dorsey and 14 points and nine assists from Lindsay Tait.
Outside of Josh Pace was almost a lone scorer in the second half for Manawatu, after fellow import Chris Hagan, hobbling with injury, was held to just two points after halftime. League MVP Nick Horvath had just three points at halftime and picked up a fourth foul in the third period, but eventually continued his double-double streak with 12 points and 16 rebounds.
After Manawatu took a 31-27 lead at the 7:20 mark, the Pirates rattled off the next eight points, with Tait hugely influential at both ends of the floor, to lead 35-31 and prompting a timeout from Jets coach Ryan Weisenberg.
Busy hands in the passing lanes saw the Pirates force the Jets into more turnovers as they lead by as many as eight points in the second period.
The first period featured seven lead changes. Both teams were off-line with attempts early on, particularly the Pirates, as the Jets built a six-point lead. Swarming defence allowed Auckland to get out on the fast-break for some easy buckets as the scores were level 23-23.
Wellington Saints 94 (Jason Crowe 36, Ernest Scott 16, Arthur Trousdell 10) Bay Hawks 88 (Jarrod Kenny 20, Kareem Johnson 17, Paora Winitana 15, Galen Young 15, Everard Bartlett 11). 1Q: 17-23, 30-40, 3Q: 58-62, 4Q: 78-78.
Auckland Pirates 104 (Alex Pledger 25, Ismail Muhammad 23, Ron Dorsey 17, Lindsay Tait 14, Hayden Allen 12) Manawatu Jets 88 (Josh Pace 25, Chris Hagan 17, Zane Meehl 15, Nick Horvath 12, Jeremiah Trueman 12). 1Q: 23-23, HT: 48-44, 3Q: 79-64..
Auckland Pirates 104 (Alex Pledger 25, Ismail Muhammad 23, Ron Dorsey 17, Lindsay Tait 14, Hayden Allen 12) Manawatu Jets 88 (Josh Pace 25, Chris Hagan 17, Zane Meehl 15, Nick Horvath 12, Jeremiah Trueman 12). 1Q: 23-23, HT: 48-44, 3Q: 79-64.
- Fairfax Media
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