Giants' Rod Grizzard knows no vertical limits
The Alabama Slammer has arrived, right on schedule.
From the day he was signed to play for the Fico Finance Giants, Nelson basketball fans were told Rod Grizzard was a wee bit special.
After all, he'd been drafted into the NBA, had been a collegiate and professional star in leagues around the world and racked up 20 points a game in the tough Australian NBL.
And, make no mistake, he's been solid for Nelson with an 11-rebound game here and 22 points there.
But, on Saturday, three days out from a sudden death quarterfinal in the Bartercard national basketball league, the big man from Birmingham lifted the Giants onto his shoulders and carried them home.
Grizzard's 29 points, eight rebounds and eight assists were slightly surplus to requirements in a 94-89 victory over Auckland, but no-one in the Giants camp was complaining.
Nelson were already locked into fourth place on the ladder while the Auckland Pirates were out of the playoff race and had come south looking to play positive basketball and poop some parties.
Grizzard and the Giants weren't willing to go quietly, though.
They trailed until the 5min 9sec mark of the second quarter, when Grizzard claimed a rebound, beat two defenders with a behind-the-back dribble at halfway, then penetrated deep to the basket, where he threaded the needle with a pass to Darryl Dora for a game-tying score.
That single play inspired a strong finish from the Giants who, until then, had played slipshod defence and had appeared willing to trade basket for basket with an Auckland team with busy hands and lively legs.
Nelson got to halftime 55-53 ahead and played the rest of the game from the front, although their lead was never more than seven when Grizzard made two free-throws for a 77-70 bulge.
Auckland, a far better team than the one that began the season, never packed it in and were just a point behind with 19.4sec to play but the Giants kept their composure and made their free-throws as the Pirates gambled on fouls to stop the clock and bridge the gap.
Grizzard was even in the thick of things there. Among his 29 points were 13 from the free-throw line as the Pirates fouled him 11 times in the match.
"That was a big night from Grizz, a huge night," said Nelson assistant coach Tony Rampton.
"We didn't need to win tonight for our playoff position or anything but a guy like him will always work hard to win.
"For the fans and the sponsors and for some momentum going into the quarterfinals, a win is great, but we'd love to have been in a position where we could buy some rest for our guys before Tuesday."
The Giants are certainly showing the signs of nearing the end of a compact and competitive season. An ailing Mika Vukona, while still gathering 18 points and eight rebounds, is running on empty and he's not alone in the Nelson side.
That's where the likes of 21-year-old guard Josh Bloxham, who made all three of his shots and played energetic defence on the Pirates' ballhandlers, will be crucial in the next week, in which the Giants could potentially play a home quarterfinal, then a Friday semi and a Sunday final in Wellington.
"My confidence had been down but, tonight, I felt I helped the team a little," he said.
"I'm not stressing about my shot or my minutes too much at this stage of the season, but it is important to play my part on defence and do something positive to help the team when I'm out there."
Bloxham's speed from foul line to foul line will be vital tomorrow as the Giants attempt to do a better job of reining in lightning bolt Manawatu Jets guard Chris Hagan. The tiny tearaway stung Nelson for 32 points in their last meeting.
"It's not one man's job," Rampton said. "We are so much better when we work as a team at both ends of the floor.
"Tonight, we gave up 53 points by halftime and that's just too many. It happened because once one of our guys was beaten, we didn't get enough help.
"Second half, more communication, more help, more faith and trust in each other and we came through for the win."
The Nelson Mail