The Auckland Huskies took the air out of the table-topping Steelformers Taranaki Airs with a 102-99 overtime thriller to get the action underway on Thursday night in the Sal’s NBL Showdown.
This was a game befitting of finals week as both teams start to flex their muscles in anticipation of the business end of the competition as the big name players stepped up to make big time plays at both ends of the floor.
The Huskies got over the line thanks to four of their starting five scoring 20 points or more, led by Taine Murray’s 28 points and a herculean display from Tohi Smith-Milner with 22 points and 21 rebounds as the Tall Blacks big-man overcame another injury scare with a second quarter tumble. Izayah Mauriohooho Le’afa (21) and Leon Henry (21 and 14) also enjoyed big nights.
The Huskies came out firing and edged out to an early 14-8 lead before the Airs fired a shot, but they quickly closed the gap on the back of their two big offensive threats in Raukawa and Jones as they combined for the next 9 points for the table topping Airs.
Two of the leagues best offensive units then went toe to toe and shot for shot for much of the rest of the first half, the Huskies led by 1 at quarter time but the Airs closed out the half strongest to lead 47-44 with Jones (16) and Raukawa (15) leading all scorers.
Best for the Huskies at the break was Mauriohooho Le’afa (12), Henry (11) and Smith-Milner who posted 8 points and 6 boards despite putting a scare in the camp when he slipped and limped back to the bench midway through the second quarter.
Shane Temara showed his athleticism in that second quarter with a baseline one handed dunk that led to an old fashioned three-point play as he was hit on the way to the rim, before he drained three the easy way from beyond the arc to highlight his value to the Airs.
The second half continued in much the same fashion with teams going at each other from outside and in the paint, with Taine Murray showing his increasing influence on the league with back to back long range daggers to close out the quarter and give the Huskies a four point lead heading into the final 10 minutes – at least the final of regulation!
What transpired in the final seconds was an incredible sequence of action at both ends of the floor as both teams had chances to win it but failed to execute. The Airs had one look at the basket blocked by Henry, the Huskies ran the floor on the fast break only to be denied by a game saving block from Jones before Raukawa launched a prayer that hit the rim on the buzzer – and stayed out.
Overtime produced yet more twists and turns as first the Airs went clear, only for the Huskies to chase them down and win in the face of a make a basket and foul approach from the Airs as they desperately looked to stay in touch, but the Huskies kept their cool at the line to win and move up the table.
For the defeated Airs Jones (36 and 17) and Raukawa (28) were again heavy contributors while Temara added 15 points in defeat.
Final Score: Huskies 102 Airs 99
• Auckland Huskies 102 (Murray 28, Smith-Milner 22Mouriohooho Le’afa 21, Henry 21,)
• Taranaki Airs 99 (Raukawa 28, Jones 36, Temara 15)
• This one was like the finals had arrived early, both teams throwing it all on the floor in a back and forth battle
• The big guns came to play with some massive double-doubles posted, with Smith-Milner and Jones leading the way
• The final few seconds of normal time could have seen the game go either way, with Marcel Jones block at the basket in the end in vain, but a highlight nonetheless
SkyCity MVP Votes – Tohi Smith-Milner (Huskies-8), Marcel Jones (Airs-7), Derone Raukawa(Airs-7), Taine Murray (Huskies-6), Izayah Mauriohooho-Le’afa (Huskies-2).