NBL Showdown: Nelson Giants first to fall, as Canterbury Rams advance in playoffs

Canterbury Rams have belied their wooden-spoon finish in the NBL Showdown regular season to send archrivals Nelson Giants home first from the playoffs in Auckland.

Forward Quintin Bailey led the southerners with 19 points and eight rebounds, while captain Taylor Britt managed 15 points, eight boards and seven assists in a balanced Rams effort.

Centre Mike Karena and guard Thomas Ingham had 19 points each for Nelson, while veteran Mika Vukona collected 14 points and 16 rebounds.

Canterbury were early favourites for this revamped post-coronavirus format, but their campaign began badly, when former Virgina University championship centre Jack Salt suffered a season-ending knee injury.

Once the competition began, they rocketed out of the blocks with three straight wins - the last team to keep their unbeaten record intact - but could only manage one more win over their remaining 11 games.

That came in their final regular season outing against Franklin Bulls, so this success over Nelson gives them momentum that will have future opponents slightly concerned.

The Giants made the early running, extending to an 11-point lead late in the opening quarter, before the Rams rallied to lead 49-47 at halftime.

They hit another injury snag midway through the third period, when centre Alex Talma, who replaced Salt in the starting line-up, also departed with injury, leaving his team exposed on the interior.

But teenager Tom Webley stepped into the void, making life difficult for counterpart Karena around the basket.

Canterbury's advantage reached 11 points midway through the fourth quarter, but they had to withstand back-to-back three-pointers from Dane Brooks and Karena that brought the Giants within two points with 12 seconds on the clock.

Nelson could not find a go-ahead basket, as Sam Smith nailed a pair of free throws to seal victory for the Rams, who now progress to face Auckland Huskies in Wednesday's quarter-finals.

Canterbury Rams 93 (Quintin Bailey 19, Taylor Britt 15, Tom Webley 13, Reuben Te Rangi 11, Sam Smith 11, Alex Talma 10) Nelson Giants 89 (Tom Ingham 19, Mike Karena 19, Mika Vukona 14)

Meanwhile, top-of-the-table Otago Nuggets have earned an - in theory - easier passage to Saturday's Grand Final, after rivals Manawatu Jets chose to rest Most Vaulable Player Tom Vodanovich from their preliminary-final clash.

Forward Jordan Hunt led all scorers with 23 points in 17 minutes, while teenage centre Jack Andrew was near perfect (7/8) from the field for his 16 points, as Otago prevailed 105-80.

Jets forward Taane Samuel came off the bench for 17 points, while guard Nelson Kirksey scored 15.

The Nuggets outscored their opponents 30-19 in the opening quarter and were never really challenged, as both teams elected to sit their starters early. 

With Manawatu converting just 38 percent of their shots, Otago feasted on defensive rebounds and executed clinically, passing off for 26 assists. Top draft pick Jordan Ngatai logged just 20 minutes for 11 points, nine rebounds and six assists.

In the semis, the Nuggets will now face the lowest-ranked winners of Wednesday's quarter-finals, while the Jets will take on the highest-ranked team.

Otago Nuggets 105 (Jordan Hunt 23, Jack Andrew 16, Jordan Ngatai 11) Manawatu Jets 80 (Taane Samuel 17, Nelson Kirksey 15, Ashton McQueen 13, Nick Fee 11)