The table-topping Taranaki Airs got home 97-92 over a brave Canterbury Rams thanks to an unlikely hero, with forward Shane Temara lighting up The Trusts Arena in a 64-second spell that had him draining three’s either side of a drive and one-handed flush in the paint in a memorable final quarter that saw both sides with chances to win.
This was top (Airs) v bottom (Rams) in the Sal’s NBL Showdown, but the Rams looked anything like the worst team in a very congested ladder, constantly challenging the Airs in a performance that belied the number of injuries they have suffered coming into and during this competition.
But ultimately it was the Airs who rode home on that magical spell from the athletic Temara and another masterly display from their two most experienced campaigners in Derone Raukawa and Marcel Jones.
The Airs gave a glimpse of what they bring to the Sal’s NBL Showdown in the opening minutes, with Tai Wynyard dominating from the post, Raukawa ducking and diving past defenders in the lane and Jones grabbing boards and draining a three as the Airs led 23-19 at the first break.
But the Rams are nothing if not resilient and on the back of an inspired Taylor Britt they charged back at the Airs in the second, with Britt dropping three triples on the way to a 35 point explosion for the men in red and a 54-44 halftime lead.
The Airs made an immediate run at the Rams to open the second half, however, with an 8-point run almost cancelling out that halftime deficit and it was again Jones and Raukawa at the heart of much of the Airs offence.
From that point on it was ebb and flow, with the lead changing multiple times as both teams entertained the late crowd at the Trusts Arena. Even after Temara’s startling spell that put the Airs up by 7, the Rams did not go away, with their competitive spirit on display as they closed and then retook the lead at 92-91.
Britt led all scorers with 31 but received great support from the Rams big men, with Quintin Bailey (14) and Alex Talma (12) scoring efficiently and effectively against the Airs bigs in the paint, while Sam Smith was reliable as always with 13 points including three triples.
The Airs resisted that late surge from the Rams though to ease away in the end, consolidating their position on top of the ladder and in doing so showing their versatility with so many scoring options at their disposal, inside and outside and typically with a smile on their faces in what is clearly a very tight roster.
SkyCity MVP Votes:
Derone Raukawa (Airs-9), Taylor Britt (Rams- 8), Marcel Jones (Airs-7), Shane Temara (Airs-3), Quintin Bailey (Rams-2), Alex Talma (Rams-1). Derone Raukawa (Airs-9), Taylor Britt (Rams- 8), Marcel Jones (Airs-7), Shane Temara (Airs-3), Quintin Bailey (Rams-2), Alex Talma (Rams-1).