In the top of the table clash on Tuesday night at Trusts Arena, the Steelformers Taranaki Mountainairs maintained their hold of the top spot in the Sal’s NBL Showdown with an enthralling 106-105 win against the Fluid Recruitment Otago Nuggets.
In a terrifically entertaining contest, the lead changed hands six times in the final two minutes as both sets of fans revelled in the excitement.
Otago trailed 94-87 with five minutes to play but fuelled by the energy of Matt ‘Mr Irrelevant’ Bardsley the Nuggets refused to lie down.
Jarrod Kenny gave the Nuggets their first lead of the game with 1:48 to play and from there the fans were on the edge of the seats.
Bardsley, the 84th pick in the NBL Draft, finished with an impressive 18 points, 8 rebounds and 2 assists, his energy rubbing off on his teammates. Kane Keil and Jarrod Kenny both scored 20 points, whilst the ever-improving Jordan Hunt posted a team-high 24 points.
The Airs remain top of the table and were indebted to Marcel Jones (26 points and 12 rebounds), Derone Raukawa (22 points), Denhym Brooke (17 points) and Shane Temara (14 points and 12 rebounds) for getting them a seventh win of the season.
The Airs were the first to settle, 12-3 ahead after four minutes before the injection of Matt Bardsley helped the Nuggets get their wheels rolling.
The swingman scored six points in the quarter but a dozen points from forward Denhym Brooke gave the Airs a useful 32-21 lead at quarter-time.
A brace of threes from Jarrod Kenny reduced the Otago deficit although Brooke had posted an NBL career-best in under 13 minutes to keep the Airs in the ascendancy.
Kiel struck from deep and Hunt from inside but a sweet turn-around jump-shot from Jones and a corner three from Francis Mulvihill kept the Airs ten points clear.
A triple from Otago debutant Aaron Roydhouse was more than matched by six points on the bounce from Mitch Dance to give the league leaders a 61-49 half-time lead.
The Nuggets scored the opening seven points of the second half and it was almost five minutes before the Airs, courtesy of Kenneth Tuffin, scored their first basket from the field to remain ahead (65-58).
Raukawa was beginning to find his range, but so was Kenny, the Nuggets only seven points behind at three-quarter time (83-76).
Aitcheson and Kiel treys reduced the advantage to four before Jones and Temara replied.
An effort play from Tuffin gave Dance the scoring opportunity to keep the Airs ahead 94-88 - a signal for the best finish of the season to play out over the closing five minutes.
After Kenny gave the Nugs their first lead of the game the arm wrestle saw Jones, Keil, Tuffin and Bardsley give their teams game leading baskets until the impressive Brooke made the decider with 16 seconds remaining.
Ngatai had one last effort but it was the Airs that breathed a sigh of relief as his effort fell short.
Sky City MVP Votes:
Marcel Jones (Airs-7), Derone Raukawa (Airs-6), Jarrod Kenny (Nuggets-5), Matt Bardsley (Nuggets-5), Kane Keil (Nuggets-5), Denhym Brooke (Airs-2).