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The Steelformers Taranaki Mountainairs overcame a sluggish start to defeat the EnviroNZ Franklin Bulls 107-95 and begin the 2020 Sal’s NBL Showdown with two straight wins.
Isaac Davidson was outstanding for the Bulls with 27 points (6/9 3PG), but it was the poise and quality of Marcel Jones (29 points/14 rebounds) and Derone Raukawa (18 points and 6 assists) that shone through and carried the Mountainairs to a deserved victory.
Earlier, Dominique Kelman-Poto had the distinction of scoring the first-ever NBL point for the EnviroNZ Franklin Bulls, although it was Davidson with the hot hand early on as the South Auckland club posted the first ten points of the game and within six minutes were 24-9 ahead.
The former Rangitoto College and Sonoma State University standout dropped his first four three-point attempts. Mitch Dance, sporting a heavily strapped tight hamstring, contributed to Taranaki's cause with a long three and cut the deficit to six after ten minutes.
The second quarter began in unusual circumstances with the Airs the beneficiary of a technical foul and a free-throw. The Bulls, in the excitement ahead of their opening game, had failed to put one of their players on the scoresheet.
Within the rules, Taranaki could have ruled the unfortunate Bull out of the game but in keeping within the spirit of the game, the Airs Head Coach Doug Courtney generously allowed the player to remain in the game.
The transgression perhaps unsettled the Bulls as it was all Airs in the second quarter, with Tai Wynyard, Marcel Jones and Kenneth Tuffin to the fore. Davidson had a monster 19 points in the opening half, only it was Taranaki with the lead, 55-52, at the interval.
Raukawa and Jones found their scoring groove in the third period, Carlin Davison and Tuffin knocked down corner threes, and the momentum was with the Airs as they stretched their lead into double figures – ahead 82-70 at the three-quarter mark.
The Bulls started the final frame in style. Nikau McCullough landed three triples in two minutes and with Sam Timmins ending a transition play with a thundering dunk, the NBL debutants were within two points (84-86).
Jones then stamped his authority on proceedings scoring 11 of the next 13 points and it was game over.
The Bulls have just 24 hours to recover before facing the Wheeler Motor Company Canterbury Rams, while the Airs can rest up until Saturday when they will also take on the Rams who comprehensively beat the Auckland Huskies yesterday.
Bulls Stats: Isaac Davidson (27pts & 8s), Nikau McCullough (17pts), Everard Bartlett (13pts & 5ast).
Airs Stats: Marcel Jones (29pts, 14rbs & 6ast), Derone Raukawa (18pts & 6ast).
SkyCity MVP Votes: Marcel Jones (Airs-10), Isaac Davidson (Bulls-7), Derone Raukawa (Airs-7), Nikau McCullough (Bulls-3), Tai Wynyard (Airs-2), Kenneth Tuffin (Airs-1).