The Nelson Giants came second in every key category as they suffered their fifth loss in the national basketball league in Hamilton yesterday.
After taking sole possession of second place with a gritty win over Manawatu on Friday, the Fico Finance Giants fell back to third with a decisive 88-69 defeat at the hands of the Waikato Pistons.
The statistical breakdown makes poor reading for Nelson fans. Field goal percentage won 55 per cent to 43 per cent by the home team, rebounds 34-26, assists 23-8. The Giants did shoot free-throws at a higher percentage but with 12 attempts against the Pistons' 24, that was a very small straw to clutch.
Nelson lost the first quarter 20-14, the second 20-18, fell further behind in the third, 28-24, and allowed the game to get well out of their grasp in the final period, 20-13.
"That was not the type of performance the Nelson Giants should be delivering," coach Liam Flynn said. "We are a better group than that."
He said the failure to move the ball, resulting in eight assists for a team that often tallies twice that many, was the most galling aspect. Waikato's defenders crowded the ballhandler and, instead of working out of tight spots with teamwork, the Giants resorted to trying to shoot over the pressure defence, or drive through it.
"We were up against a team that moved the ball very well. Waikato deserve a lot of credit for how well they played," Flynn said.
"In the big moments, on the big plays, it was always [Corin] Henry scoring or making a play for someone else or [Akeem] Wright pulling out a big shot."
The Giants continue to be hampered by a painful foot injury for Brook Ruscoe, who bravely fronted for both games at the weekend when he might have been rested in other circumstances.
Co-captain Phill Jones also had four fouls, including a technical, well before halftime although he managed to play out the game without getting his fifth.
A second technical, on the Nelson bench, brought a vow from Flynn.
"It was very uncharacteristic of our team and it will not happen again, I promise you that," he said.
"Regardless of whatever we think is happening with the refereeing, they didn't cost us this game.
"Waikato were good and it was a very disappointing performance from our guys. As a team, it was our worst effort of the season."
Three Giants made it into double figures with Jamal Boykin leading the way on 18. He also had seven rebounds while Josh Pace had 17, with five rebounds and three assists. Sam Dempster made three three-point shots in his 11.
"Sam didn't play much on Friday night and he gave us something good today," Flynn said.
Henry (28-6-9) and Wright (22-7-7) were the game's dominant figures although enduring 36-year-old forward Casey Frank was a strong contributor with 17 points and eight rebounds.
The Giants have to travel again this weekend, with the NBL-leading Hawks next on the draw in Napier this Saturday.
There is a slim chance Mika Vukona might be back in New Zealand by then, after Byblos were eliminated in the semifinals of the Lebanon Div 1 competition, 3-0.
Pace provided the full point on yesterday's game when he addressed the Giants in the locker room, post-game.
"When JP talks, it means something. He told the boys to flush it, then focus squarely on Hawke's Bay," Flynn said.
"That's exactly what we will be doing."
- The Nelson Mail