An overtime game two nights before a vital road match might not normally be seen as the ideal preparation, but the extra outing served the Wellington Saints well as they went to 2-0 in the National Basketball League with an 84-78 win in Nelson tonight.
Saints had opened their league season with an extra time victory over Hawke's Bay on Wednesday and backed that up with a gritty road win over a Nelson Giants side that looked one game short of a gallop.
The ability to execute plays under pressure was the difference between the traditional rivals. Going into the fourth quarter, Nelson led by three points but they were undone by seven turnovers in the final 10 minute period.
By contrast, Wellington were composed and gave the ball up just twice as captain Lindsay Tait and fellow guard Corey Webster had the ball in their hands.
There was only one shot between the teams when Nelson swingman Josh Pace scored on a fast break, but in trying to force a game-tying play against a stacked Saints defence, Phill Jones was called for a double dribble, then Josh Bloxham had the ball stolen by Damien Ekenasio to close out the match.
Realistically, victory had probably slipped away a minute earlier from the home side, making their first appearance at Saxton Stadium after their normal venue, the Trafalgar Centre, was closed as a potential earthquake risk.
The Giants played solid defence for 24sec on consecutive possessions but then allowed Wellington rebounders, the ever-present Ekenasio in particular, to sneak in for offensive boards and extra opportunities. Forced to foul, Nelson saw the margin slip out to six.
Although neither shot the ball at a high percentage, and Tait was guilty of six turnovers, the international experience in the Saints backcourt came through in the last quarter.
Always an accurate free throw shooter, Tait went nine from 11 and Webster eight from nine, causing Nelson's defence difficulty with their ability to penetrate.
In contrast, a Nelson side that had key players Josh Pace and Mika Vukona arrive during the week, lacked polish under pressure.
Centre Jamal Boykin is an impressive recruit and had 23 points and eight rebounds on debut but only Bloxham (16 points) and young power forward Gus Riley performed anywhere near their ability.
Webster led all scorers with 26, Tait added 20 and Ernest Scott 16 but Saints should pay special respects to Ekenasio, the veteran tough guy making a number of key plays as he holds a starting spot for BJ Anthony.
Saints complete a heavy first week in the NBL with a trip to Christchurch to take on the Canterbury Rams, back in the league for the first time since 2010.
Wellington Saints 84 (C Webster 26, L Tait 20, E Scott 16), Nelson Giants 78 (J Boykin 23, J Bloxham 16, J Pace 13). 1Q: 17-21, HT: 40-39, 3Q: 58-61.