The Taranaki Steelformers Airs have erased an 18-point deficit to beat the EnviroNZ Franklin Bulls 93-86 at the Franklin Pool & Leisure Centre on Friday evening.
It was a quick 13-3 start for the Bulls in their final home game of 2022. The Airs shot just 1-of-8 from the field over the first four minutes of the game leading to an early timeout for coach Trent Adam. Tall Black Isaac Davidson returned with a FIBA Asia Cup bronze medal in hand and rattled off five quick points to lead the early scoring burst.
The Bulls would keep their foot on the gas for the duration of the quarter, outscoring the Airs 26-11. The Airs looked a little lethargic and lacked assertiveness on offence, shooting 4-of-20 from the floor and 0-of-9 from deep.
Franklin dished out five first quarter assists without a single turnover, enabling them to control the flow of the game and build a solid lead early in the contest.
It was a completely different story in the second, as the Airs figured out the zone defence and stormed back into the game to take a brief lead in the quarter. Five straight points to end the first half by Corey Webster helped grab the lead back for the Bulls, up 48-45 at the break. It was the Airs who claimed the second quarter 34-22 though, with Anthony Hilliard scoring 12 points and Javonte Douglas and Shaun Willett each dropping eight.
Both teams were doing a great job taking care of the ball with two turnovers a piece, and there wasn't a whole lot else to separate them in the first half on the box score. The Bulls had three players in double figures - Isaac Davidson, Corey Webster and Anzac Rissetto - a welcome sight for a team that has struggled to find consistent offensive production this season.
The Airs started strong in the third quarter with an 11-0 over the first three minutes. They would lead by as much as 11 points in the quarter, but the Bulls settled things down to stop the bleeding and remain in striking distance. Franklin trailed by seven points heading into the fourth quarter after leading by as much as 18 earlier in the contest.
The Bulls were shooting just 36% through three quarters and had 10 turnovers, but big man Rissetto was making enough inroads in the paint against an Airs team missing their starting centre Tai Wynyard to Commonwealth Games duties. He had 19 points on 7-of-12 shooting with 10 minutes still to play.
The game of runs continued in the fourth quarter but this time it was the Bulls' turn, firing off an 11-4 run to tie the game at 73 with seven minutes to play in the game. And then it was the Airs responding with a 12-2 run of their own to take a 10-point lead.
That response by Taranaki proved to be the fatal blow, as the Bulls weren't able to recover and make key shots down the stretch. The Airs seemed content to let Anzac Rissetto have his way down low in this one with his game-high 27 points on 11-of-16 shooting, while Corey Webster had 24 but shot just 9-of-27 from the field. The Airs did a fantastic job on Webster, being physical on the perimeter and whenever he would enter the paint.
Anthony Hilliard, Javonte Douglas, Marcel Jones and Shaun Willett all scored at least 20 points in the victory, but the contributions and effort of Carlin Davison was also a difference maker. He's starting to become more and more comfortable on the court and you can see the growth with each game. He scored nine points in the contest, but he had a tremendous impact on both ends of the floor with his work rate.
The Bulls shot just 39% from the field and 9-of-39 from three, a clip that just isn't high enough to compete with a team of the Airs' calibre. The Airs weren't much better from downtown with a 5-of-26 effort, but their 44% shooting overall helped give them that crucial edge down the stretch.
The Bulls hit the road for their final two games of the season and it'll be an uphill climb to make the Final 6. They'll have to beat both the Sharks and Nuggets on the road to give themselves a shot, along with some other results falling their way.
The Airs have a date with the table topping Giants in what could be a game that determines the top seed.
SCORE: Bulls 86, Airs 93
Bulls: Rissetto 27 PTS, 11 REB, 11-16 FG | Webster 24 PTS | Davidson 17 PTS, 8 REB
Airs: Willett 24 PTS, 11 REB, 6 AST | Hilliard 21 PTS | Douglas 15 PTS, 11 REB, 7 AST | Jones 20 PTS, 10 REB
Full box score HERE.
Stuff MVP Votes
Shaun Willett (Airs) - 10 votes
Javonte Douglas (Airs) - 8 votes
Anthony Hilliard (Airs) - 6 votes
Anzac Rissetto (Bulls) - 4 votes
Corey Webster (Bulls) - 1 vote
Isaac Davidson (Bulls) - 1 vote
Bulls - Aug 7 @ Otago Nuggets
Airs - Aug 4 vs. Nelson Giants
Round 14 Sal's NBL Schedule