Shane Heal's playing career was full of excitement and the new Wellington Saints coach started his tenure in the same fashion, beating Hawke's Bay 93-91 in an NBL overtime thriller tonight.
Australian great Heal only arrived in Wellington on Monday to start his coaching stint with the Saints after standing down from his job with the Sydney Kings.
Adding to the degree of difficulty was the absence of Tall Blacks Corey Webster and BJ Anthony, while the Tab Baldwin-coached Hawks were at full strength.
Understandably the Saints were far from the compete package at Wellington's TSB Bank Arena but the seven-time champions showed more than enough to suggest that at least they will take their usual berth in the semifinals.
Saints point guard Lindsay Tait (17 points, 14 assists) didn't have the best shooting night (5/19 FG) but came up big when it mattered in overtime with a series of crucial plays.
A Tait lay-up gave the hosts a 89-88 lead with 50 seconds to play and after Hawks forward Paora Winitana missed a three, Tait found Damien Ekenasio for an easy bucket to stretch the advantage to three.
Hawks point guard Jarrod Kenny then stepped out of bounds and Tait hit two free throws to ice the game as a late Everard Bartlett three proved mere consolation.
While Tait was the overtime hero, Saints import Ernest Scott ensured they got the extra term in the first place.
Scott (26 points, 10/16 FG) only arrived in Wellington on Saturday after being called in as a late replacement for JR Cadot.
But the sharpshooting forward is no stranger to the capital, having had two previous stints with the Saints, in 2008 and 2012, and was battle hardened from the NBA's D-League.
The Hawks had led for most of the second half but Scott hit three straight triples to help square things at 82-all at the end of regulation.
Winitana launched a buzzer-beating three-point attempt and while the shot missed he appeared to be fouled and the upset Hawks had to dust themselves off for overtime.
Breakers shooting guard Webster was courtside in street clothes as he sees out his stand-down period following the ANBL season.
Webster is expected to be available for the Saints road games against the Giants in Nelson Friday and the Rams in Christchurch on Sunday.
But the arrival of Adelaide power forward Anthony is a way off as he prepares for the ANBL grand final series against Perth.
New Saints import Elijah Obade grew in confidence throughout his NBL debut and finished with an impressive double double of 16 points and 16 rebounds.
And returning homeboy Dion Prewster looked like he had been working hard on his shot, hitting four of seven from deep to finish with 21 points.
The undersized Ekenasio did a manful job against big Hawks imports Kareem Johnson and Dustin Scott, hauling in 11 boards and playing tough defence.
Wellington Saints 93 (Ernest Scott 26, Dion Prewster 21, Lindsay Tait 17) Hawke's Bay 91 (Everard Bartlett 15)
- The Dominion Post
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