Wellington Saints claim NBL title
Wellington Saints shut out an unlikely last-minute Waikato Pistons comeback to secure their first national basketball title since 2003 with an 82-79 win.
Saints had levelled the best-of-three National Basketball League series yesterday in Wellington with a dominant 98-69 win after a lack-lustre effort in Hamilton the previous night saw the two-time defending champion Pistons out-play Wellington 80-74.
After a sluggish first half tonight, Saints eased away in the last quarter and were cruising home in the final minute of play. But a 10-point lead suddenly disappeared on the back of three
Hayden Allen three-pointers in the closing 30 seconds.
With the Pistons on shooting fouls, Saints' accuracy from the free-throw line was suddenly all that was keeping the game in their grasp.
In front by only three, and with just 13 seconds remaining, the Saints premature celebrations ground to a halt.
Former Waikato guard Eric Devendorf came to the rescue, sinking two from the free-throw line for Wellington to steady the ship and secure Saints the win.
A hard-fought game saw both teams fouling high, as Saints battled to turn around a slow start that had them trailing by 10 points midway through the first quarter.
Waikato captain and former Australian international Tony Ronaldson signalled his team's intentions in opening the scoring with a three-pointer.
Tom Abercrombie, who posted a game-high 32 in the first match only to be shut down yesterday to 14, got involved early tonight and ended a sterling night's work with 29 points. His first three-pointer fell after barely two minutes, and gave the Pistons an 8-0 lead.
Point guard Lindsay Tait kick-started the Saints game soon after, scything through the Pistons defence and setting the tone for a game which saw him dominate the boards for 28.
"This has been a long time for us," Tait told Sky Sport afterwards. "We've been close the last couple of years, but to come back this year win it -- it's awesome."
Things didn't look too good for the Saints early on, as a focused-looking Pistons defence had them locked down and Abercrombie, given too much time was relishing the open shot as Waikato went into the first break leading 28-23.
Tait again was hugely effective for the Saints, orchestrating their fast-running game and driving well to the hoop. Waikato coach Dean Vickerman deputised Abercrombie to try and keep him in line, but Tait proved unstoppable and Saints edged closer to trail 41-44 at halftime.
Devendorf, who top-scored yesterday, tweaked his ankle in the second quarter, but was back on court as the third quarter began and the Saints settled into the business of reeling in the Waikato lead.
They hit the front with three minutes of the third stanza gone, Nick Horvath driving to the basket and drawing the foul on Alex Pledger -- his fourth of the game. Ahead 62-55 at the end of the third quarter, Wellington stepped up a gear in the final 10 minutes.
They moved the ball with speed and precision, swinging the ball round the keyhole as the final quarter closed down and Waikato were left scrambling for possession.
It was left to Allen to reignite -- albeit briefly -- the visitors' hopes with a treble of three-points in the space of 15 seconds.
Wellington Saints 82 (Lindsay Tait 28, Eric Devendorf 17, Erron Maxey 13)
Waikato Pistons 79 (Tom Abercrombie 29, Hayden Allen 20, Rashad Tucker 12). Halftime: 41-44.