The first Battle of the North went the way of the Franklin Bulls by 4 points, and the second showdown went the way of the Auckland Huskies by, you guessed it, 4 points.
It’s a rivalry that is already alive and well in the Sal’s NBL.
A three-pointer with 10 seconds to go from Auckland Huskies 18-year-old Taine Murray propelled his team to a come-from-behind 86-82 win over the Franklin Bulls in the Sal’s National Basketball League encounter on Tuesday night.
The Huskies had trailed by as much as 14 points in a competitive contest, but battled back for a gutsy win on the back of a huge third-quarter performance by star guard Izayah Le’afa, who finished with 25 points, 7 assists and a game-winning steal.
After early 10 lead changes in front of a passionate and loud crowd, the game was deadlocked at 79-79 with less than two minutes, and despite some shooting heroics at both ends by Jackson Stubbins (Bulls) and Taine Murray (Huskies), who both dropped big triples, it was a Le’afa steal that ensured a win for the Huskies.
Earlier in the game Sam Timmins had stamped his authority for the Bulls, the big centre mastering a 14-point and 10-rebound first half that had his team leading 46-42 at the long break.
The Huskies overcame a slow start (down 14-26 at the end of the first quarter) with a 13-1 run early in the second period to close within two points, thanks to four consecutive three-pointers and a hot run by Tohi Smith-Milner (22pts, 13rbs, 5 treys).
While teenager Taine Murray was industrious, it was Smith-Milner’s range from beyond the arc that had the Bulls looking for answers, which came in the form of a Jackson Stubbins’ deep three on the half-time buzzer.
The Huskies were able to keep in touch in the third quarter, knocking down enough perimeter shots and making most of their foul shots to tie the score at 58-58 with three minutes to play prior to the last change. The lead continued to see-saw from the point.
A slow start to the last quarter, in which both teams failed to score for four minutes, only made for a showstopping finish as every play down the stretch became crucial.
Le’afa was brilliant, his poise under pressure was impressive, while Timmins continues to grow as a rising big to keep a close eye on.
The win evened the series between the two northern teams, a treat for the NBL in their search for a genuine rivalry to help spark crowds into action across Auckland.
Auckland Huskies 86 (Izayah Mauriohooho Le’afa 25 points, 6 rebounds, 7 assists / Tohi Smith-Milner 22 points, 13 rebounds, 5 treys / Taine Murray 11pts)
Franklin Bulls 82 (Sam Timmins 21 points, 15 rebounds / Dominique Kelman-Poto 15 points, 8 rebounds / Jackson Stubbins 10pts, 8rbs)
- Sam Timmins spent some time on Monday talking to former Tall Black Casey Frank on ways he could improve his game, it seemed to work in the first half
- The Huskies scored 16 three-pointers compared to the Bulls’ nine.
- The first time these two teams met, it was the lowest-scoring Sal’s NBL game of 2020 when the Bulls prevailed 63-59. Tuesday night’s game was far more free-flowing.
SkyCity MVP Votes
Izayah Le’afa (Huskies-9), Tohi Smith-Milner (Huskies-8), Sam Timmins (Bulls-7), Isaac Davidson (Bulls-2), Marvin Williams-Dunn (Huskies-2), Taine Murray (Huskies-1), Jackson Stubbins (Bulls-1).