They were undone by a banked buzzer beater that will be replayed over and over again in Canada, but it will be the first three quarters that might haunt the Tall Blacks for a while longer after they were beaten 88-86 by Canada in the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games semifinals today.
While the winning shot might have been miraculous, there was nothing lucky about the Canadian performance as they put in the shift of a lifetime to overturn at 22-point defeat in pool play to knock out the Tall Blacks, leaving the New Zealanders to ponder the bronze medal game at 11am New Zealand time Sunday morning.
New Zealand just couldn’t get their offence flowing through the first three quarters as Canada swarmed them and pressured them into mistakes, with the Tall Blacks having 15 turnovers by halftime. Every time the Kiwis got close, Canada found a way to extend again and keep their distance, leading by 5 at halftime and 17 heading into the final term.
That final quarter very nearly went down in folklore as the New Zealanders awoke from their slumber, forcing Canada into handling errors, finally making baskets and getting the largely pro-New Zealand crowd into the game.
Shea Ili and Mika Vukona led the fightback, Ili with 23 points and 7 assists, Vukona with a double-double of 13 points and 15 mammoth rebounds, many of them in that final ten minutes, while Tom Abercrombie had 13 points and Finn Delany played a big part in the final quarter with 4 points and 4 boards off the bench.
Head Coach Paul Henare could not hide the disappointment, but along with the rest of the support staff is focused on getting the team ready to go again tomorrow morning and come home with a bronze medal.
“We put ourselves in a position to win. Sport is beautiful, sport is rewarding, sport is great, but it can be very cruel as well. In all honesty they played the better game and deserved to win, the basketball gods decided that they would win, there is nothing we can do about it now.
“We have less than 24 hours before we play again for a bronze medal, that is going to be forward thinking in preparation and mental and physical recovery. That is going to hurt for a long time for a lot of those guys, we have an opportunity to win a medal and we will do all we can to make sure we are on the podium with Canada and Australia tomorrow.”
Henare was not surprised by the fight shown by the team to somehow hurl themselves back into the contest when trailing by 17 at three quarter time, but says it is vital that this harsh lesson is learned for future teams in similar situations.
“We always have been a team that has struggled with expectation, especially to win as favourites. The heart and desire of the group and groups before us means we have always played the game the right way, unfortunately for these guys the game did not go our way for the majority of the first three quarters. We can’t do anything about that, but we need to make sure that drives us next time, hopefully, when they get an opportunity.”
New Zealand 86 (Ili 23, Abercrombie 13, Vukona 13)
Canada 88 (Diressa 22, Morgan 19, Tutu 17)
Bronze medal match, v Scotland, Gold Coast Convention Centre, April 15th, 11am tip off NZT