Auckland Pirates pillage Saints for NBL title

SAINTS SECOND: The Auckland Pirates celebrate victory in the NBL final.
SAINTS SECOND: The Auckland Pirates celebrate victory in the NBL final.

The Auckland Pirates have denied the Wellington Saints a rare National Basketball League three-peat, with Lindsay Tait celebrating a personal three-peat with the 89-83 win.

Centre Alex Pledger overcame first half foul trouble to score a team-high 20 points, along with nine rebounds, while Ron Dorsey finished with 18 points and Ismail Muhammad 16 points as the Pirates edged the two-time defending champion Saints on their home floor in the championship game at TSB Bank Arena tonight.

The Pirates become the third Auckland franchise to win an NBL title, following on from Auckland in 1982-83 and the Auckland Stars in 1995-97, 1999-2000, 2004-05.

Up seven points entering the fourth quarter, the Pirates were able to keep the Saints at arm's length throughout the final 10 minutes.

Wellington were able to close within three points on a Jeremy Kench basket with 1:24 remaining, and after Pledger was called for a travelling violation on the next possession, they had an opportunity to tie the game with 35 seconds remaining.

Jason Crowe, whose 36 points in the semifinal win over the Bay Hawks got the Saints into the final, went one-on-one and had his three-point shot partially blocked. The Pirates went the other way, with Ismail Muhammad scoring on a put-back to make it a five-point game.

After making one of two free-throws as the Saints began fouling intentionally, Allen stole a Saints inbounds pass, taking it in for a lay-up to ice the win.

Outside of their big three, point guard Tait had 14 points in winning his sixth NBL title and third straight after featuring with the Saints the previous two seasons. Hayden Allen added 12 points, including a big three with 4:50 to play which stretched the lead to eight points.

Saints import Ernest Scott finished with a game-high 28 points, including six three-pointers, while Casey Frank had 19 points and seven rebounds while also trying to deal with Pledger down low despite a clear height disadvantage.

Crowe was held to just 10 points on 4-of-10 shooting, but also had 11 assists and six rebounds for Wellington.

It is the ninth NBL championship for Pirates forward Dillon Boucher, while it is the third for veteran forward Daryl Cartwright, who started the season as the assistant coach, and was head coach Judd Flavell's first title as a player or coach.

Following Troy McLean's three-pointer with 2:30 to run in the third, Wellington went scoreless for the remainder, with the Pirates rattling off eight straight points to lead by seven with 10 minutes to play.

Foul trouble for Pledger was the story of the first half. He was a monster on the offensive boards, with four, and eight points but only played nine minutes as he picked up two quick fouls in the first period, then his third mid-way through the second.

The Saints took advantage with the seven-footer on the bench, out-scoring Auckland 12-4 in the final 4:12 of the half.

The second quarter belonged to Scott. After having just three points in the opening 10 minutes, the import forward went for 13 points, finishing the half with 17 points on 7-of-9 shooting (3-of-5 on threes) to be the leading scorer. For Auckland, Muhammad and Tait both had 12 points, while Crowe had eight assists in the first half.

The Saints late-quarter troubles also showed up in the first period, as they scored just two points in the last four minutes, allowing the Pirates to build a seven-point lead..

Auckland Pirates 89 (Alex Pledger 20, Ron Dorsey 18, Ismail Muhammad 16, Lindsay Tait 14, Hayden Allen 12)

Wellington Saints 83 (Ernest Scott 28, Casey Frank 19, Troy McLean 10, Jason Crowe 10).

1Q: 28-21, HT: 46-48, 3Q: 71-64.

Fairfax Media