Waikato Pistons upset Nelson Giants on road
The Waikato Pistons upset the Nelson Giants in Nelson tonight to emerge as genuine NBL playoff contenders.
An 87-74 victory for the visitors pushed them ahead of the Giants and into the top four, with the leading quartet at the end of the regular season contesting the National Basketball League Final Four in Wellington.
In a defensive slugfest for the majority of the first half, the Pistons twice had to haul in a host side that looked likely to pull away to a notable lead.
After a miserable first quarter offensively saw the Giants lead 13-11, a string of small scoring runs from the hosts - featuring Brook Ruscoe - pushed them out to a 29-16 lead midway through the second quarter. The Pistons, chiefly on the back of Zac Carter, nibbled away at that lead though and drew level just before halftime before a buzzer-beating three from Josh Bloxham saw the Giants head to the changing rooms up 36-33.
They extended that lead to 46-36 early in the third and with key Pistons import Akeem Wright having an off night with his shooting while also being in foul trouble, it seemed the Giants would keep control.
But with Wright finding his touch, the Pistons dragged their way back and even established a 56-53 lead with 10 minutes to play. They steadily pushed that margin out throughout the last quarter as Wright again excelled defensively in keeping Giants dangerman Josh Pace quiet, as he had when the Pistons beat the Giants at home two weeks ago.
Carter, in his first NBL season, had a career-high 26 points while adding nine rebounds. Point guard Corin Henry had 21 points and Wright ended with 20.
Jamal Boykin led the hosts with 24, Ruscoe 17 while Pace was restricted to only seven points.
The Pistons play the second leg of their South Island double-header in Christchurch tomorrow against the Canterbury Rams.
Waikato Pistons 87 (Zac Carter 26, Corin Henry 21, Akeem Wright 20) Nelson Giants 74 (Jamal Boykin 24, Brook Ruscoe 17). 1Q: 11-13, HT: 33-36, 3Q: 56-53