A new round in age-old rivalry

NICK MILLS JR
Last updated 13:34 04/07/2014
 Final Four captain
FAIRFAX NZ
READY TO RUMBLE: The NBL’s Final Four captains brace for action. From left: Southland’s James Paringatai, Hawke’s Bay’s Paora Winitana, Nelson’s Phill Jones and Wellington’s Damien Ekenasio. 
 Final Four captain
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The fierce rivalry between the Wellington Saints and Nelson's Fico Finance Giants continues tonight, playing against each other in the semifinal for the fourth time since 2008.

Wellington defeated the Giants at TSB Bank Arena in the 2008 and 2011 semifinals, but the Giants did win 83-82 in the 2009 semi in Nelson when centre Tony Rampton tipped home a missed shot with 0.7sec left to play.

Both teams have a rich history in the National Basketball League playoffs, both with identical playoff records of 24 wins and 21 losses.

The Saints will be playing in the playoffs for the 24th season and have made a semi in seven straight years.

Nelson play in the post season for the 21st time and have made the playoffs 10 out of the last 11 seasons. Between them, they have accumulated 10 titles (Saints 7, Giants 3) and combined for 24 finals.

In his final NBL season, Phill Jones has broken the NBL record for most games played (368), will finish second in all time points scored (currently at 6695), and will be playing his 37th playoff game since joining the Giants back in 1993.

The 2007 season was the last time the Giants won the title, and it was former Tall Black and current assistant coach Ed Book's last game. The Giants will be hoping to replicate this for Jones, who last won a title with Nelson in 1998.

After finishing a franchise record 14-2 last season, the Saints suffered a terrible semifinal loss in Hawke's Bay to the Southland Sharks, who went on to win the title. This year the Saints return to TSB where they are 4-0 in semifinals since 2008.

Tall Black and New Zealand Breaker Corey Webster has been a standout in the competition, averaging 26.5 points a game, shooting the three-pointer at nearly 45 per cent.

There will be three former Most Valuable Players in tonight's semifinal; Saints point guard Lindsay Tait (2005, 2013), Giants swingman Josh Pace (2007) and guard Jones (2009).

Despite not winning the MVP, the player who arguably is one of the best in the league, is Nelson forward Mika Vukona, who has won both Australian and New Zealand championships. Vukona will go head to head with Tall Black team mate Benny Anthony Jr in what will be a bruising contest.

In the last two seasons Wellington is 15-2 at TSB Bank Arena, but in their last game against Nelson, who were without Vukona, they only won 81-77.

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Tonight's game will screen live on SKY Sport at 8.30pm.

- The Nelson Mail

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