Wellington Saints complete perfect season with NBL final win over Southland Sharks
The Wellington Saints have achieved perfection.
With a 108-75 win over the Southland Sharks in Saturday's National Basketball League final, they became the first team to ever claim the title while not losing a game.
As it has all year, their wealth of star power proved too much for the Sharks to handle. Shea Ili had 31 points on 66 per cent shooting (62 per cent from deep), while Corey Webster had 27, eight assists, and seven rebounds. The Sharks' highest scorer, in contrast, was Derone Raukawa, with a meagre 15.
The decider was played in front of a dismal crowd on neutral ground at ASB Baypark Arena in Tauranga, which isn't home to an NBL team at present, but does have its sights set on one in the future.
The Sharks finished a distant second to the Saints at the end of the 18-game regular season, but they managed to keep this contest close to begin with.
The scores were level, 21-21, at the end of the first quarter, and the Sharks eked out a lead in the second, taking advantage of the Saints' slow start from behind the arc - they made just one of their first seven three-point attempts, before finishing by making 14 of their final 20.
The decisive stretch for the Saints came at the end of the second quarter, where they turned a 27-31 deficit into a 42-33 lead in the space of three minutes, and never looked back.
First it was a Jordan Ngatai three, with 4:15 on the clock to make it 30-31, then a series of two pointers from Webster, that made it 36-33 a little more than 90 seconds later.
Ili then hit a three to make it 39-33, and Ngatai wrapped a bow around the 15-2 run with another three from the right corner.
There was 1:41 on the clock at that point, and the two teams traded buckets to leave the Saints up by a slightly-reduced margin, 44-37, at the halftime break.
The Saints never trailed again, and though the Sharks did threaten to come close at times, Kevin Braswell's team were always able to find a bucket when they needed one.
They pushed the lead back out to 12 on the back of a Tai Wesley three-pointer midway through the third quarter, and that was followed by another from Ili to make it 15, 62-47.
It grew to 16 by the end of the third quarter, and so the only question left heading into the final spell was the margin.
The answer? 33.
Wellington Saints 108 (Ili 31, Webster 27, Ngatai 18) Southland Sharks 75 (Raukawa 15, Kay 14)
1Q: 21-21; HT: 44-37; 3Q: 74-58