The Wellington Saints suffered two huge losses at the TSB Bank Arena last night: a basketball game to the Nelson Giants and star import Eric Devendorf to injury.
Nelson's 80-65 triumph moves them clear into second place behind the league leading Waikato Pistons and earns a crucial edge in the race for a home semifinal.
In front of a big crowd, Nelson (10-3) also snapped the Saints' (9-4) unbeaten home record this season in a scrappy contest between the two fierce rivals.
Experienced Nelson guards Phill Jones (24 points) and Mike Fitchett (12) were lethal from long-range as the Saints faded in the fourth quarter.
Devendorf had to be helped off court three minutes into the second quarter after suffering a worrying ankle injury.
The Saints' leading scorer was knocked to the ground hard while driving to the basket and did not return to the court, watching the final quarter with his leg up on the sideline in obvious pain.
The American guard had been held to just four points in his time on court after being closely guarded by defensive specialist Mika Vukona.
While there was no immediate diagnosis, the Saints camp feared the injury was serious and Devendorf is facing an uphill battle to be fit for the Saints' next game, at home to the Pistons next Saturday.
With Devendorf sidelined, big men Casey Frank (14 points) and Nick Horvath (11) needed to step up for the Saints and while both battled manfully, it was not enough to overcome the determined visitors.
The Saints' cause wasn't helped either by a quiet night from their second import, Erron Maxey, who shot two from nine for just four points.
Nelson held a single digit lead for virtually the whole game and started the fourth quarter with a six-point lead but then pulled away as the Saints were guilty off some sloppy possessions.
While the emotive Leon Henry (11) as usual tried his best to spark the Saints late, this time it was to no avail, as a fired-up Vukona celebrated the win with a slam-dunk and a chest bump.
Nelson, who also claimed the Shallcrass Cup last night, back up against the Cougars in Christchurch tonight and the Saints will be crossing their fingers for an upset.
Nelson 80 (Phill Jones 24, Darryl Jones 13) Saints 65 (Casey Frank 14, Nick Horvath 11, Leon Henry 11) HT: 41-35
- The Dominion Post
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