For a first-up hitout, the Taranaki Mountain Airs probably surprised their most ardent fans.
No, they didn't get the win they craved, losing the National Basketball League match 82-74 to the Manawatu Jets at the TSB Stadium in New Plymouth yesterday, but they gained a lot of respect.
Written off by most observers as being too inexperienced and lacking any real X factor, the Airs were in a prime position to push for victory deep in the fourth quarter.
Behind by two with a little under two minutes to play, the home side pushed desperately for a tying basket. Try as they might, it just wouldn't fall.
It was the story of the afternoon, with the Airs dropping just 23 from 73 shots from the field. The Jets fared little better, making 31 from 75.
Having welcomed new import Suleiman Braimoh only a few days before their first match, and with fellow import Adrian Oliver unwell for the best part of the week, it was probably no surprise that things took a while to warm up.
With the first quarter ending 15-15, many of the crowd might have thought they were in for an afternoon short of quality basketball.
Thankfully things improved, plays started coming together and the ball found the basket, albeit not as often as expected.
The winning of the game was probably either side of halftime as the Jets went on a 12-point run, a deficit the Airs couldn't claw back - not that they didn't try.
Oliver landed a couple of pressure three-pointers, while Brad Anderson came up with several big plays to drag them back into it.
With Braimoh finding his feet quickly, there was a real sense of an upset. Unfortunately the Airs just couldn't get vital rebounds or clutch baskets to drop.
It was deflating but not something that would drag the team down, according to rookie coach Daryn Shaw.
"We certainly prepared and we thought we could win this game," he said.
"We know we're not rated but we don't feel that. We are disappointed by it [the loss] because a lot of our shots that would normally go just didn't.
"In terms of effort, I'll never question these kids because they play hard. We do have to find other ways to be creative and we know we had a chance, but it just got away from us."
Shaw still saw plenty of positives and was confident they would surprise some teams.
MANAWATU JETS 82 (Paul Jones 33,Arthur Trousdell 12)
TARANAKI MOUNTAIN AIRS 74 (Adrian Oliver 30, Suleiman Braimoh 16).
1Q, 15-15; 2Q 39-33; 3Q, 62-54; 4Q, 82-74.
- Taranaki Daily News
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