Waikato Pistons fall short in fightback vs Saints
The Waikato Pistons' season came to a close today with an exhilarating fightback falling just short in a 83-82 defeat at the hands of the Wellington Saints.
Facing an early deficit, the Pistons fought manfully to give themselves a late shot at a victory, but the final seconds summed up their season - dogged, determined and unhinged, yet just falling short.
With the Saints up by a solitary point and holding the ball with 1.7 seconds left, the Pistons' chances looked bleak, but an excellent defensive stand saw Dion Prewster whistled for not getting the ball inbounds within the required five seconds.
That gave the Pistons a chance to end their season on a high, but late-game specialist Karl Noyer bobbled the inbounds pass, regaining possession to launch an improbable three which took two bounces off the rim before falling out.
A win had originally looked like a serious long-shot after the Saints came roaring out of the gate, shooting out to a 20-4 lead by grabbing the advantage on the glass, and punishing a surprisingly weak Pistons defence.
With their double-digit lead still intact at quarter-time, the Saints began to come unstuck in the second quarter, with Pistons coach Pero Cameron ordering pressure against a Saints backcourt missing Tall Blacks Lindsay Tait and Corey Webster, with young Izayah Le'afa joining Prewster in attempting to fill the role of lead ball-handler.
Although both players did an admirable job, the Saints' crisp ball-movement of recent weeks was lacking, and the stingy Pistons defence of old stepped up, with Corin Henry proving to be a pest on both ends as Waikato brought the deficit back into single-figures at the half.
That lead continued to evaporate in the second spell, with swarming defensive rotations capitalising on the Saints' lack of premier ball-handlers. A James Comer three saw the Pistons draw within two, at 58-56, but a Brandon Bowman triple followed by an outlandish Jordan Mills buzzer-beater made sure the Saints carried an eight-point buffer into the final quarter.
Often criticised for their inability to get out in transition, the Pistons fired up their fast-break intensity in the final period to close the gap, with Henry and fellow import Akeem Wright profiting from some easy buckets, while Wright found good post position to receive Casey Frank's crisp entry passes.
The two sides continued to trade buckets, with the Pistons going ahead for the first time late in the game on a Dyson King-Hawea tip-in, moments after Frank had been assessed a critical technical foul by referee Shane Nikora.
However, a clutch mid-range jumper from the left baseline from Le'afa, coupled with a crunching late block from Saints import Bryan Davis on Henry saw the Saints take the one-point buffer they eventually maintained in the final seconds.
Frank was again a standout for the Pistons, coming close to a triple-double with 13 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists, while Wright added 26 points and Henry notched 21 points and six dimes.
For the victorious team from the capital, import Brandon Bowman hit 5/6 threes to end with 20 points to go with eight rebounds and five assists, while Beny Anthony was his classy self with 12 points and seven boards.
The Pistons end their season with an 8-10 record, finishing in sixth place on the ladder, while the Saints now head home to Wellington as they prepare for next weekend's semifinal against the Nelson Giants.