The Property Brokers Manawatu Jets booked their place in the Sal’s NBL Showdown Grand Final on Saturday with a 105-95 victory over the Steelformers Taranaki Airs at Trusts Stadium tonight. The youthful Jets line-up will face the Otago Nuggets as the top two from the regular-season matchup at 7:30 at Trusts Stadium to decide the championship.
Ultimately the Airs were reliant on big performances from Marcel Jones and Derone Raukawa and while their star players posted good numbers, their efforts and those of their support cast were not enough to overcome a Jets team reinvigorated following their Tuesday night loss to the Otago Nuggets.
The Jets were boosted prior to tip-off with news that Sal’s MVP Tom Vodanovich would suit up after missing that loss to the Nuggets, he didn’t disappoint with a telling contribution of 28 points and 7 boards for the winners.
The first quarter was a close affair through the first seven minutes or so, until Ashton McQueen blew the game wide open with a three-pointer that might have been as close to halfway as it was the three-point arc, followed up by a brilliant layup on a Hyrum Harris full-court pass for the assist. The Airs called time out, but the damage was done, and the Jets led by 11 at the first break.
The second saw the Airs restrict the Jets to 21 points and improve their own production on offence, led largely by Marcel Jones who was playing plenty of one on one basketball, ending the half with 18 points on 8 of 17 shooting. The gap would have been just a couple at the main break had Zach Easthope not fouled Jayden Bezzant’s buzzer prayer, allowing the Jets point guard to walk to the line and convert all three foul shots to see his team lead 55-50 at the break.
If the Jets edged the first half, the Airs took control in the third quarter, turning that five point deficit into a three point lead with ten minutes to play, and they did so on the back of an even spread of scorers, with Jones adding just two to his halftime tally. The Airs rangy forward was on triple-double watch heading into the final term though, needing just five assists to reach that rare statistical milestone.
The final quarter saw the Jets fire up again though with a 38 point scoring blitz leaving the Airs in their wake, essentially closing it out with 6:15 left to play when a Taane Samuel lay-up took the lead out to double figures.
Try as they might, and they kept trying, the Airs had no response in their tired legs, with Jones playing the entire 40 minutes for his 25 points, 13 boards and 7 assists – but the points were on 10 of 26 from the floor, with just 3 from 10 from long range as the minutes might have caught up to the All-Star Five forward.
Raukawa was his usual busy and bubbly self, playing 38 minutes for his 32 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists, but the 7 turnovers were again a telling factor as fatigue took over at crucial moments.
For the winners the starting five were all in double figures, with Hyrum Harris again hinting at a triple double, ending three assists short of that mark.