100 up as Giants take it personally
At 40, Phill Jones is probably entitled to pick his moments in the national basketball league.
With the Brian Rampton Memorial Trophy at stake on Saturday, Jones uncorked a game from the archives. He scored 25 points on seven-of-13 shooting and added four rebounds, five assists and a steal as his Fico Finance Nelson Giants steamrolled over the Taranaki Mountain Airs, 100-81.
Jones is close friends with Tony Rampton, the elder son of the Rampton family from Taranaki. Tony and younger brother, Damon, played national league basketball in both Nelson and New Plymouth and, when Brian died, a trophy was donated in his honour to be decided in games between the two clubs.
Jones said the Rampton Trophy was a strong motivator.
"It means a lot, playing well and winning for Tony and his family are important to me," he said.
"To be honest, that wasn't the best Taranaki team we have faced, but I thought we took another big step forwards and really put them away comfortably."
So comfortably, in fact, that coach Liam Flynn was able to sit his starters for most of the fourth quarter as the Giants led by 32 on a Jones jumpshot late in the third. Justin Wehner and Ashton McQueen each made their NBL debut while Sam Dempster, Chris Duthie and Bronson Beri were given valuable court time.
Taranaki won the fourth quarter, 22-12, but that was barely noticed by an animated Saxton Stadium crowd. Instead, the push for 100 points kept the fans engaged through the final five minutes.
Jones was subbed out at the 5.24 mark, having made his third three-pointer to lift the Giants to a 97-71 lead. A shot that would have raised the ton didn't count when Jones let fly just after the 24sec clock expired.
And then the Giants just couldn't push past the barrier.
A full five minutes later, and 20sec from the end, everyone breathed out when Gus Riley caught the ball at the top of the key and drained the three to bring up the big figure for the first time in this campaign.
This was a flowing Giants performance, at odds with the brutal grind in Wellington 24 hours earlier, when they lost to Saints by four. Nelson came out strongly, the starting five aggressive on defence and cashing in with scoring opportunities in transition.
Josh Pace and compatriot Jamal Boykin controlled their markers and helped Nelson to a 12-point lead after just the first quarter.
"We felt we let one go [in Wellington]," Pace said. "There was no way we were going to sit back and let Taranaki get established because they had a good win on Friday and their confidence was up.
"We knew the best way to shake them was to start strong and never let them settle."
The lead was 15 at the half and 29 after three periods as the Giants rarely lifted their foot off the pedal.
The cracks appeared early for Taranaki.
Shooting guard Adrian Oliver was given a technical foul when he went one-on-three Giants defenders, had his shot stopped and then gave the refs an earful. Captain Aaron Bailey-Nowell collected a second tech soon after and tiptoed a very fine line from that point, flirting with ejection and a second suspension for the season. And the visitors were teched again when they managed to have six players on court - at that point, they probably needed nine - with Jones consistently connecting on the free-throws.
League player of the week Suleiman Braimoh, who had posted 30 points and 21 rebounds the night before, cut a disinterested figure for much of the match.
Flynn paid credit to Boykin for clamping down on the lanky centre.
"Special mention to Jamal - we were aware of what Braimoh could do so Jamal didn't let him get to the ball."
With Oliver, the MountainAirs' leading scorer starting off the bench and not entering the game until the Giants had already got their feet under them, it was left to a pair of young guards to provide most of Taranaki's high points.
Brad Anderson's shooting and Dane Brooks' athletic scoring and rebounding were the most the Mountain Airs could muster.
"We did what we had to do," Pace said. "We expected to win this game and we went the right way about winning, moving the ball, being unselfish and playing hard on defence."
Flynn said the focus his side showed was heartening, 24 hours after a disappointing defeat.
"They were engaged, locked in, right from the tip," he said. "Tim [assistant coach Tim Fanning] and myself looked at how the guys approached the first half-dozen plays and we knew we were going to see a team playing at a high level."
For Jones, who is now halfway through his final NBL season, the motivation was two-fold. Playing a big part in the Giants' sixth win in eight games was important but accepting the Brian Rampton Trophy from Tony Rampton was up there, too.
"It's nice to knock some shots down, but keeping hold of that trophy is personal," he said. "I'm pretty pleased it's staying in Nelson this year."