There's only one P. Jones.
Casual observers might have been confused when a P. Jones was pouring in points for the Manawatu Jets against the Fico Finance Nelson Giants but, with all due respect to first-season import Paul Jones, last night was not about him.
Instead, Giants co-captain Phill Jones passed another marker in a special basketball career when he played his 362nd game in the Bartercard National Basketball League, more than anyone else. Ever.
The Giants won last night's match 91-82 to move solidly into the reckoning for a playoff place, jostling with Saints for second. That simply capped what was a memorable evening for the 40-year-old guard.
It began with Giants swingman Josh Pace, who celebrated his 31st birthday yesterday, addressing the team and paying tribute to what Jones meant to the group, the city of Nelson and the sport.
And it was bookended by the presentation of a carved mere, a gift from the NBL. The presenter was Willie Burton, the American forward who had held the record for the most games played until Jones edged ahead.
Giants coach Liam Flynn said Manawatu handled the moment with class.
"The Manawatu fans stayed, to a man. Their team had just had a pretty tough loss in a very tight game but they stayed to honour Phill, which I thought was a real credit to their people."
The game was a crucial one for the Giants, Jones' and Pace's celebrations aside. They had lost their two previous games and needed to steady the ship quickly against a Jets side that ushered back former league MVP Nick Horvath from pre-season groin surgery.
The big centre had an outstanding match on his return with 14 points and 17 rebounds but the Giants countered that with a top-drawer outing from forward Jamal Boykin.
His 35 points were a season high, gathered on 14 of 19 (74%) shooting. He added 11 rebounds, three assists and a steal while closing Horvath down in the second half.
"Jamal had a very poised game, he continued to battle Horvath and eventually slowed him and, at the other end, he dragged him away from the basket with his three-point shooting, then went back inside and took him on there," Flynn said.
Boykin had opened the Nelson account with two of his four threes as the Giants went to the first break up by three. A defensive lapse right at the start of the second rocked them back on their heels, though.
Veteran shooting guard Troy McLean was left naked on the three-point line and punished the Giants twice in the first minute on the way to a 26-16 Jets quarter. That gave the home side a seven-point advantage at the half and prompted a Flynn address on the virtues of rebounding and controlling the tempo.
"In the second half, we took care of the boards and tried to speed them up," he said.
The result of that approach was a 27-13 third quarter and a 31-29 final period, that 29 inflated by Paul Jones feasting on Nelson's young bench in the final 30sec.
"This was a quality win for us," Flynn said. "Manawatu have a good team and it was an absolute arm-wrestle in that first half. I think we needed to play at something near our best to take over the second half in the way we did."
Jones marked his milestone game with 11 points and five assists while birthday boy Pace turned in what is, for him, a par performance these days with 20 points, nine rebounds and three assists.
The X-factor again came from teenaged forward Finn Delany with 15 points as the starting power forward.
"We challenged him at halftime to have an impact on the game and Finn had a great second half."
Paul Jones led the Jets with 30 points as Horvath, McLean and Brandon Jenkins kept Nelson honest.
The Giants travel to Hamilton today to take on the Waikato Pistons at 2pm tomorrow. Another win this weekend would have them sitting comfortably as they prepare to welcome Mika Vukona back from Lebanon before the end of the regular season.
"Waikato, especially in their starting five, have great talent," Flynn said. "We'll have to be ready to meet the challenge at the defensive end."
Live stats from tomorrow afternoon's game are accessible through basketball.org.nz, Basketball New Zealand's website.
Fico Finance Nelson Giants 91 (J Boykin 35, J Pace 20, F Delany 15, Phill Jones 11, J Bloxham 6, S Dempster 2, G Riley 2), Breakers Manawatu Jets 82 (Paul Jones 30, N Horvath 14, T McLean 13, B Jenkins 12, J Trueman 4, A Burton 3, D Raukawa 3, A Trousdell 2). HT: 33-40.
In the night's other game, Super City Rangers guard Jason Cadee torched the Saints for the second time this season, his game-high 36 points inspiring a 114-111 NBL win at Wellington's TSB Bank Arena. Cadee, who scored 30 points against the Saints in their previous win in Auckland, was deadly from downtown.
He connected with seven of his 10 three-pointers in a performance that Saints coach Shane Heal would have been proud of, hollering and hand-slapping as bomb after bomb found its target.
The Saints, now 7-4, were $1.10 favourites, but the Rangers, 3-7, are a lot better team than that record suggests.
- The Nelson Mail