In a game loosely billed as the 'Best of the Rest Cup' the Nelson Giants battled the Southern Huskies for what was going to likely deliver the winner fifth position on the ladder, and while it's not a Final 4 berth, it is the dubious honour of being the next best team.
The clash was soured with Mika Vukona's dramatic twist and turn on the centre decal that led to a knee injury in the second half (yet to be determined how bad it is) that left the Nelson crowd in stunned silence. From cheering their team on it was a surreal moment when a collective gasp was followed by total silence for what seemed like a minute or more as the hometown favourite lay on the court grabbing at his knee.
Vukona was seen hobbling from the venue later in the night and was upbeat with an early report suggesting a probable MCL sprain. More news is expected early in the week following an MRI.
The Huskies came in off another tough travel schedule and a 15-point loss in Invercargill the previous night, but that didn't stop them from getting off a good start and testing the Giants, who themselves are usually good starters.
A 30-20 opening quarter set the Huskies up, they looked sharp early with both Craig Moller and Harry Froling seeing plenty of the ball, while Marcel Jones was proving a handful as well.
The Giants chipped away in the second quarter but somehow found themselves down by 12 points at the half after Moller dropped a trey right on the buzzer, somewhat of a dagger as the Huskies went into the break with a pep in their step.
The third period was a see-sawing battle, and one that entertaining the crowd, especially early when the Giants went on a 7-0 run to come right back into the contest. Dan Grida took the game to another level late in the third with a string of baskets, his last drive taking the Giants to what had previously seemed an unlikely lead, 70-69.
With the win on the line both teams stood toe-to-toe and fought for the win down the stretch, the lead changing multiple times and heroes from each side stepping forward, none more so Mason Bragg who aggressively attacked the basket with success three or four times to give the Huskies the edge.
The win was as much relief for the Huskies as it was a success, the victory their first in New Zealand since June 2 against the lowly Rangers.
Nelson Giants 89 lost to Southern Huskies 97
Giants - Dan Grida 21pts, Jordair Jett 17pts & 11ast, Bronson Beri 12pts.
Huskies - Marcel Jones 22pts & 14rbs, Harry Froling 21pts & 11rbs, Craig Moller 15pts.
Stats That Matter - the Huskies won the rebounds 50-34 and attacked the basket with aggression, resulting in 34 trips to the foul line where they dropped 30pts.
TAB MVP Votes - Marcel Jones (Huskies) 10, Dan Grida (Giants) 7, Harry Froling (Huskies) 7, Jordair Jett (Giants) 4, Mason Bragg (Huskies) 2.
(photo credit: Photosport NZ)