Defeat hurts the Waikato Pistons' playoff aims
The Waikato Pistons have made their task of making the NBL playoffs immeasurably harder.
The hosts blew a gift-wrapped opportunity to move one win closer to the National Basketball League Final Four when they lost 86-82 in overtime to the short-staffed Canterbury Rams in Hamilton today.
A 13-point lead with less than 10 minutes to play wasn't enough for the Pistons to see off a Rams side that scored an upset win when the two teams met in Christchurch last weekend, but came into this encounter without injured import Glen Dandridge.
The defeat leaves the AdviceFirst Pistons in fifth sport with an 8-7 record and means coach Pero Cameron's team probably have to score road wins over the Manawatu Jets and Wellington Saints, and a final home match victory against the pre-season favourites Wellington to make the post-season in the capital.
A cold gym didn't stop the hosts from heating up early and producing their best offensive opening quarter, but that was as good as it got.
Starting Dyson King-Hawea gave them extra scoring prowess and they jumped out to a 23-9 advantage before the Rams added six unanswered points to trail by eight at the first break.
It was if the awareness that a victory was essential with the race for a playoff place tightening up - the small crowd were more vocal than in past games, and the Pistons responded with initial intensity.
They extended their lead in the second quarter and it seemed the game was virtually over as a contest when Rams small forward Richie Edwards voiced his displeasure with the officiating, was banged with two technical fouls for his outbursts and ejected for the remainder of the clash.
When he departed with four minutes to play in the first half, the Pistons led 37-22. They still held a 13-point lead early in the final quarter before the under-manned Rams clawed their way back into contention, chiefly through centre Matt Rogers.
The lengthy import knocked down two three-point shots to reduce the deficit to six with five minutes to play as the hosts experienced their now-expected scoring slump. Another Pistons' Achilles heel, poor free-throw shooting (6/17 in 45 minutes) stopped them from closing out the gutsy underdogs in the dying stages.
Up 73-69 with 14 seconds left, the Pistons conceded a trey to Marcel Jones, Corin Henry could only make one of two from the free-throw line and Ethan Rusbatch sent it to overtime with a step-back jumper just before the buzzer.
Casey Frank had a chance to level scores with 14 seconds left in overtime, but also went 1/2 and when his three-point attempt to tie the game rimmed out in the final second, the Rams rightly celebrated an unlikely success.
Rogers had 33 points, with 7/10 from beyond the arc, while Akeem Wright led the hosts with 21 but from 8/24 shooting as his second-half slump summed up that of his side.