Waikato Pistons pipped by Saints at the death
The NBL playoffs are almost out of reach for the Waikato Pistons after tonight's agonising 85-83 loss to the Wellington Saints.
With two matches left before the Final Four playoffs to decide the 2014 National Basketball League, the Pistons likely need two victories and for the Nelson Giants to slip up badly.
Coach Pero Cameron's team got off to a good start and led the hosts 15-7 midway through the first quarter in Wellington before Cameron's opposite Shane Heal called a timeout. The short break didn't help the Saints though, as the visitors extended their advantage to 20-7 before ending the opening 10 minutes with a 25-16 lead.
Small forward Akeem Wright continued his hot shooting from deep and when shooting guard Zac Carter slammed home a dunk early in the second quarter, the Pistons had shot out to a 32-18 lead.
The hosts got some spark from their bench that required a Pistons' timeout and a response from point guard Corin Henry as his side went to the halftime break up 43-38, courtesy of their long-range shooting. The Pistons made eight of 13 attempts from three-point range while also shooting 70 per cent from the free-throw line.
Saints and NZ Breakers shooting guard Corey Webster was held to nine points in the first half but hit three treys early in the third quarter as his side quickly erased their deficit and grabbed the lead. Webster netted 15 third-quarter points as his side pulled six clear but Wright's fourth trey and a late Casey Frank bucket had the Pistons back in front 61-60 with 10 minutes to play.
The Saints again established a five-point lead with four minutes to play but the Pistons quickly reduced that to leave the match tied with just over three minutes left. When Brandon Bowman made two free-throws to put the Saints up four with 11 seconds left, the Pistons seemed sunk but a Henry three forced Webster to the line.
He made one of two, but Wright's last-second desperation three for the win couldn't find the mark.
Webster finished with 27 for the victors while Henry played all 40 minutes and had 31 for the Pistons, with Wright adding 21 on 7-24 shooting.
The Pistons are now fifth with an 8-8 record while the 9-7 Giants host the dangerous SuperCity Rangers tonight.
The Pistons play the Manawatu Jets in Palmerston North on Sunday and finish their regular season with a home encounter against the Saints next Sunday.