Saints lose NBL grand final

SAM WORTHINGTON
Last updated 05:00 28/05/2012
Pirates
MAARTEN HOLL/Fairfax NZ
SAINTS SECOND: The Auckland Pirates celebrate victory in the NBL final.

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Three remains the elusive number for the Wellington Saints.

A brave run at the franchise's first three-peat was scuppered by the star-studded Auckland Pirates in an 89-83 National Basketball League grand final loss last night.

The Saints had also gone back-to-back twice in the 1980s but the treble club owner Nick Mills craves so dearly remains unfulfilled as he was forced to watch the gleeful Pirates cut down the TSB Bank Arena net.

Pero Cameron's Saints battled gamely given they were backing up from a semifinal epic on Saturday night.

The Saints had overcome a 17-point deficit to beat Hawke's Bay in overtime and they couldn't quite muster the energy to do it again last night.

Among the post-match formalities there was an embrace between two of New Zealand basketball's great champions.

Pirates forward Dillon Boucher now has nine NBL titles to his name, drawing level with Cameron, whose two coaching titles give him a tally of 11.

A dozen might sound greedy but in the big man's own words: "I don't do second place. But it's gone and now you've got to think about what's next," Cameron said.

"I thought there was a lot of fight in our guys. There's a lot of aspects I'm very proud of. One stop, one or two makes and it's a different result"

The win marks a rapid rise for the Pirates, who finished second to bottom in their debut season last year after replacing the defunct Stars franchise. But Judd Flavell's team recruited well, pinching Lindsay Tait from the Saints and finals MVP Alex Pledger and Hayden Allen from Waikato.

It was Auckland's first NBL title since the Stars in 2005 and on the back of the Breakers' Australian league twin triumphs there is no doubt where the sport's powerbase lies.

The Pirates looked in control for most of the night as Saints point guard Jason Crowe – who went wild for 36 points against the Hawks – couldn't reprise those heroics, settling for 10 points and 11 assists.

Pledger wasn't at his best either but still mustered a team-high 20 points and nine rebounds while Saints import Ernest Scott had his best game of the season with a game-high 28.

At 5-6 earlier in the season it looked like the Saints would struggle to even make the semifinals.

As well as Tait, Cameron had lost Corey Webster, Leon Henry, Erron Maxey, Kareem Johnson and Steve Adams from his championship roster but it was to the whole organisation's credit they were able to rally.

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"Everyone in our organisation have fronted and in the end it didn't happen for us but I'm glad we've fronted," Cameron said.

Cameron is now off contract with the Saints and said family was his priority before joining the Tall Blacks next month for their Olympic qualification tournament in Venezuela.

"My family's endured three or four months with me away, on the Gold Coast, getting their tan on when I'm over here losing it. I'm unsure whether I'll be back, it's something you can't say no to and you can't say yes. I'm open to any of the Mills ownership ideas and the Saints have really looked after me. There's no ill feeling with me wanting to go away, I'd love to be back here. But it's what works for them and what works for me."

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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