The Steelformers Taranaki Mountainairs have put a severe dent in the finals hopes of the Mike Pero Nelson Giants with a thrilling 96-92 win.
It was a sixth successive loss for the Giants and with a 3-7 record on the season the chances of making the Final 4 look all but gone, particularly given four of their final eight games this season will be against teams placed above them on the ladder.
The loss to the Airs was a huge blow. Going in it was billed as a danger game for the Giants, who just a week ago lost in the last few seconds to the Huskies in Tasmania, which was followed by a loss to the Saints less than 24-hours prior to playing in Taranaki.
In a competitive game, the Airs held a marginal edge most of the way, their 25 points off fast breaks a telling difference, along with 22 points from the charity stripe compared with the 12 points scored by Nelson.
Derone Raukawa (20pts @ 80%) starred over the opening half to help set up the win for the Airs, ably supported by Chris Early (18pts) and Xavier Shaw (15pts). And while literally nothing separated the teams, Alonzo Burton's seven steals were a standout.
In the closing seconds an unsportsmanlike foul called on Ali Granger all but finished the contest Houston O'Riley converting the free throws.
The loss is a bitter blow for the Giants, who after a 3-1 start to the season on their home floor have struggled since to find another victory. Though a place in the top four remains a possibility, the run home is a tough one and the gap is widening.
On the other hand, it's a second straight win for the Airs and no doubt answers critics who wonder why the club parted ways with two imports after a poor start to the season.
Taranaki Mountainairs 96 defeated Nelson Giants 92
Airs - Raukawa 20pts, Early 18pts, Shaw 15pts, Burton 9pts & 7stls.
Giants - Jett 17pts & 9ast, Grida 16pts, Harrison 16pts, Vague 15pts.
Stats That Matter - The Giants had 11 turnovers, only two more than the Airs, however the visitors were punished by the home team with 25pts coming from those turnovers.
TAB MVP Votes - Derone Raukawa (Airs) 10, Jordair Jett (Giants) 7, Chris Early (Airs) 7, Rhys Vague (Giants) 2, Xavier Shaw (Airs) 2, Tyrell Harrison (Giants) 2.