After helping deny him a championship as a player, it was appropriate Pero Cameron was on the opposing bench as Judd Flavell finally secured a National Basketball League title.
Flavell played in five NBL finals during his 15-year playing career but never lifted the trophy until last night, with Cameron's Auckland or Waikato teams getting the better of his Hawke's Bay and Nelson sides on three occasions.
But not this time as Flavell's Auckland Pirates captured the second-year franchise's first championship with an 89-83 win over Cameron's Wellington Saints at TSB Bank Arena.
"I played in five finals, it's a long time coming. And Pero always seemed to always be on the other side of that thing," said Flavell, with the net around his neck after getting the honour of cutting the final piece of twine.
"Tonight, it wasn't about me, but it was about the club and the turnaround we made from last year to this year. But yes, it's nice to have one and be able to cut down that net. It's sweet right now."
In his previous final appearances, Flavell's Bay Hawks lost to the Auckland Stars in 1995, his North Harbour Kings lost to the Nelson Giants in 1998, his Nelson Giants lost to the Auckland Stars in 2000 and to the Waikato Titans in 2002, and his Auckland Stars lost to the Hawks in 2006.
Flavell, an NZ Breakers assistant coach, is among a crop of former Tall Blacks players now in the coaching ranks - alongside Cameron, NBL Coach of the Year Paul Henare and Chris Tupu.
With the additions of quality imports Ron Dorsey and Ismail Muhammad, point guard Lindsay Tait and seven-footer Alex Pledger, he helped turned a 5-11 record in the Pirates' first year in the league into a 13-3 regular season and first title.
"To be honest, it's a little bit of relief," Flavell said.
"We knew that we were more than capable of doing this and the team that we had, we put together a nice little package, and adding two new Breakers late in the piece was an extra boost for us.
"The year has been a juggling act because it's been a short season. We got together really late, new group, new team, new systems, everything, new coaches. So it was about getting some cohesion. We knew we weren't going to be the best execution team, we just didn't have the time, but we did well and used our pieces pretty well.
"The young guys that were there at the start played their role. Daryl Cartwright came in as my assistant coach and we ended up throwing him out there in practice and he looked good, looked like he still had the goods and we decided to keep him, asked him to play a few games and he was starting to look good out there on-court. I can't speak enough about some of the guys and what they went through."
While Flavell was savouring his first NBL title, a number of his players were celebrating multiple championships.
For Boucher it was his ninth NBL medal (Auckland Stars 1995-97, 1999-2000, 2004-05 and Waikato Titans 2002), tying Cameron for most as a player.
Boucher also has three Australian NBL rings, while Cameron has the most NBL titles overall, adding two as Saints coach.
For Tait, it was his sixth (Auckland Stars 2000, 2004-05 and Wellington Saints 2010-11), for veteran Cartwright his third and Finals MVP Pledger his second.
Boucher and Pledger - late additions to the Pirates line-up after the NZ Breakers' back-to-back ANBL championship season - made the difference during the late-season run.
The Pirates went 7-1 on their march to the championship with those two in the line-up, the only loss coming in a three-point defeat on the road to the regular season champion Hawks.
"We knew we weren't going to have them until very late and we just wanted to be able give ourselves a chance to get to these finals. We knew once we got them, they're two easy guys to integrate into the team. They were huge but let's not underestimate the contribution of the other guys had too."
Asked if the Pirates could have won the title without Boucher and Pledger, Flavell paused, before backing the rest of his squad.
"We still beat teams at the start on in the year and we were 13-3 throughout the season. Those guys came in and played five games or so but I'd like to say that we still had a chance. They obviously helped, I'm not saying they didn't, but without them we still had the depth on the bench to do it."
It wasn't an easy stroll to the NZBL Trophy in the final though.
Pledger played just nine minutes in the first half after picking up two fouls in the first period and his third mid-way through the second.
Saints import Ernest Scott blew up for 13 points in the second period as the Saints took a two-point halftime lead and it was still a one-possession game in the final 30 seconds.
"Alex with three fouls was a big concern because he just dominated last night and he is that big that he has a massive impact on the game.
"Just down the stretch there, some of the stuff that we did, we just weren't that solid. There were times where we threw the ball away or didn't get the right shot that we wanted. We just sort of broke down ourselves. But our defence was good. At the end our defence was solid and that's what got us over the line."
To a treasured first championship for club and coach.
- Fairfax Media
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