A four-minute 11-point Marty Davison spurt in the third quarter guided the Canterbury Knights to a comfortable 93-74 semi-final win over the hosts Porirua. It looked to be a tight affair in the first quarter as Arthur Trousdell provided the hot start for the hosts before Marques Whippy helped level things out. A buzzer-beating layup on the stroke of half time saw Porirua take a 40-38 lead into the break but Canterbury’s hot second half assured a spot in the final for the Knights.
In the day’s following game, it was Hutt Valley’s turn to book their spot in the final with a nail-biting 100-95 victory over North Harbour. Player-coach George Le’afa took control of the game in the last three minutes, nailing two vital three-pointers as his side held off Harbour for the upset victory. Eventual tournament MVP Nico Brucknell was also crucial for Hutt Valley, chipping in with a team-high 22 points and six rebounds.
Hutt Valley were named National Mens Basketball Champions following a hard-fought 92-87 win over the Canterbury Knights in Saturday night’s final at Te Rauparaha Arena.
With Canterbury down four with forty seconds remaining in the Grand Final, Marty Davison hit what initially looked to be a fallaway three pointer and the foul, sending the mainly Hutt-cheering crowd into shock, though after a few moments it was made clear that the whistle was infact for Davison stepping out of bounds. That was the final push for Canterbury as Brendon Polyblank put the game out of Canterbury’s reach at the free-throw line, seeing Hutt Valley claim the Championship.
It was a back-and-forth opening quarter with both teams making runs of their own, before Polyblank sparked Hutt Valley to a seven-point lead. The big man finished the opening 10 minutes with 12 points, though the Canterbury Knights clawed back in the dying stages of the period to make it a 25-23 ball game.
As was the case in the opening quarter though, Hutt Valley made a mid-quarter run to stretch their lead out to nine as their pressurising defence left Canterbury scoreless for the opening four and a half minutes of the spell. Nico Buckrell was crucial in this stretch on his way to 27-point night on 13 shots though the NBC MVP was quick to pass the credit onto his team.
“We’ve just got a core group of guys who have been playing for five or six years together so we’ve got that chemistry. We just know how to play together. It’s nothing more than that,” said Buckrell.
However, the Knights soon began to play together themselves, eroding away the Hutt Valley lead using an 22-9 stretch to take a 45-42 lead into the half-time interval.
Crucial in that stretch was again Davison. The veteran guard had himself 12 points by the half and was the spark to Canterbury’s resurgence, hitting two three-pointers to end their drought.
A lethargic Hutt Valley outfit came out to start the third quarter, forgetting about transition defence as Canterbury raced out to an eight-point lead. Marques Whippy then took matters into his own hands as he bushed away his first half cobwebs to torture Hutt Valley on the offensive glass, leading to second-chance points that the Fijian was missing in the opening half as he made his way to a 22-point, 20-rebound statline.
As was the theme of the game though, Hutt bounced back right at Canterbury. The substitution of Whippy opened up an 11-1 Hutt run which they used to make the score just two points in the Knights’ favour heading into the final period, 65-63.
Beginning the forth quarter as they ended the third, Hutt Valley leaped out to a seven-point lead with five minutes remaining thanks to Jackson and Elliot Stubbins as Hutt managed to keep the Knights at arms-length as the Grand Final drew to a close to claim the 2016 crown.
A big part of the team’s success was player-coach George Le’afa whose pair of three-balls put Hutt Valley in the driver’s seat in the dying stages of the semi-final, before contributing 11 points, six rebounds and five assists – all at the age of 38.
“I’ve got one sore body. I don’t know how I ended up playing but hey, it is what it is and I’m not sure how I made the All-Star five but hey, I’ll take it… ” said Le’afa.
Though, despite Le’afa claiming the individual accolade of making the tournament team, the player-coach was quick to credit his team attitude as the reason for success.
“These boys have been playing together for quite some time, so it wasn’t that hard to build that chemistry. All it was, was work for each other, play hard and play our game.
“It was good to play with these young guys and I told them from the start ‘this is your guys’ competition, this is an opportunity for you guys to go into the NBL… it was awesome.”
MVP: Nico Buckrell
George Le’afa (Hutt Valley)
Brook Ruscoe (Porirua)
Nico Buckrell (Hutt Valley)
Marques Whippy (Canterbury Knights)
Jaylen Gerrand (North Harbour)
1st: Hutt Valley
2nd: Canterbury Knights
5th: Nelson Suns
6th: Counties Franklin
7th: Kelvin Hotel Southland Flyers