The Taranaki Steelformers Airs have won their fourth straight game with an 84-67 win over the EnviroNZ Franklin Bulls in New Plymouth.
The Bulls opened the game on a 13-3 run on the back of multiple 3-pointers and some solid work in transition. Airs head coach Trent Adam called an early timeout and it set his team straight as they responded with five straight points.
Overall, the Airs went on a 15-4 to grab an 18-17 lead with just over two minutes to play in the first quarter. They would go scoreless over the final two and a half minutes, though, and allow the Bulls to go on a 9-0 run. Franklin would lead 26-19 behind 11 points from Giddy Potts.
The Airs were the ones that asserted themselves in the second quarter, outscoring the Bulls 27-12 with Anthony Hilliard (15 PTS) and Javonte Douglas (18 PTS) leading the way. When Taranaki are moving the ball and playing with pace they're one of the most exciting and enjoyable teams to watch in the league and that was the case in the second quarter. They also had just four turnovers at the half which is an impressive mark for a team that plays the way the Airs do.
The Bulls were shooting 35% from the field through the first 20 minutes but it was their 3-point shooting (6-of-15 for 40%) that was keeping them within striking distance. Tall Black Corey Webster would need to find his footing (3-of-12 first half) for the Bulls to turn it around, especially without Isaac Davidson and Jayden Bezzant. Eight turnovers were also limiting the Bulls offensively, and allowing the Airs to get out and run.
The game of runs would continue in the third quarter with Franklin using a 15-7 run to tie the game at 53 at the 4:19 minute mark. Trent Adam called a timeout hoping to inspire a similar response that he got from his team in the first quarter, and while it didn't spark anything offensively it did turn on the switch on defensively and the Airs were able to stop the bleeding.
The Bulls claimed the third quarter 20-13 but would trail 58-59 heading into the fourth. Hilliard and Douglas each had 20 points through three quarters of work, while Webster had 18 points and eight dimes for the Bulls but was still struggling with his shot at 6-of-21.
Taranaki rattled off an 8-0 run to get the fourth started but the Bulls weren't done, namely Corey Webster who was doing everything in his power to will his squad to a road win. American guard Giddy Potts tweaked his ankle earlier in the contest and appeared to injury his calf with just over four minutes to play - he would leave the game and not return for the Bulls, adding to their list of absences.
After Potts' exit, the deficit was too much for Webster and company to overcome in hostile territory against a red-hot Airs team. Taranaki would outscore Franklin 25-9 in the fourth quarter en-route to another tidy win. Guard Richie Rodger had a quiet game overall but he had nine points in the quarter for the Airs, a nice punch for them to put a bow on the victory.
Taranaki shot just 42% in the game but hit 11 3-pointers and outrebounded the Bulls 50-38 and 16-9 on the offensive glass. They held Franklin to 33% from the field and 9-of-27 from distance.
The Airs move to 8-5 with the victory and now can sniff a potential top-2 spot and first round bye in the Final 6. It's a remarkable turnaround for a team that finished 10th a season ago and perhaps had the Final 6 as a best case goal in 2022, but they're firmly in the title hunt and the noise surrounding them is legitimate.
Franklin head to Otaki tomorrow for a date with the 5-7 Jets, who will be licking their chops with a wounded Bulls team coming into their neck of the woods. That'll be a crucial game for both teams, especially as the Jets won the first meeting in Pukekohe and Final 6 tiebreaker implications on the line.
SCORE: Airs 84, Bulls 67
Airs: Douglas 23 PTS, 10 REB, 6 AST, 4 STL | Hilliard 23 PTS, 5 REB, 3 AST
Bulls: Webster 23 PTS, 7 REB, 8 AST | Robinson 18 PTS, 4 STL | Potts 14 PTS
Full box score HERE.
Stuff MVP Votes
Javonte Douglas (Airs) - 9 votes
Anthony Hilliard (Airs) - 7 votes
Corey Webster (Bulls) - 7 votes
Shaun Willett (Airs) - 4 votes
Kael Robinson (Bulls) - 3 votes
Airs – July 17 @ Canterbury Rams
Bulls – July 7 @ Manawatu Jets
Round 11 Sal's NBL Schedule