NBL Showdown: Otago Nuggets end Canterbury challenge to reach final

Top seeds Otago Nuggets and Manawatu Jets will meet for the fifth time this season, when they contest the NBL Showdown final on Saturday.

The southerners will head into the title decider with four previous wins over their rivals, including a 130-94 romp earlier this month.

Forward Jordan Hunt powered Otago into the final, leading his team to an emphatic 97-79 victory over Canterbury Rams in the first semi-final at Auckland's Waitakere Trusts Stadium.

Then Manawatu survived a thorough examination from Taranaki Mountainairs to nail down the second spot, prevailing 105-95, after trailling into the final quarter.

In Thursday's early game, Hunt led all scorers with 33 points, including four three-pointers, and grabbed 10 rebounds for good measure, as the Nuggets went coast to coast in the southern derby, leading by as many as 24 points. 

The Rams had already belied their bottom-placed finish on the competition ladder, beating Nelson Giants in Tuesday's sudden-death elimination and then toppling Auckland Huskies in the quarter-finals.

But three games in as many nights proved a bridge too far for the plucky, but fatigued Cantabs, who lost franchise player Jack Salt to injury before the league began and then slumped to a 10-game losing streak during their campaign.

They keenly contested the opening quarter, but Otago closed the period with a 7-2 run that catapulted them clear, dominating most statistical measures, although the Rams held their own on the boards, while their reserves outscored their counterparts 33-13.

Nuggets veterans Jordan Ngatai (23 points/seven assists) and Jarrod Kenny (16 points/seven assists) set the foundation for the victory, with Hunt providing the icing.

Sam Smith came off the Rams bench for a team-leading 13 points, but their star backcourt of Taylor Britt and Reuben Te Rangi were held to a combined 22 points, shooting 8/25 from the field.

The result represents the first trip to an NBL final for the Otago Nuggets.

Otago Nuggets 97 (Jordan Hunt 33, Jordan Ngatai 23, Jarrod Kenny 16) Canterbury Rams 79 (Sam Smith 13, Taylor Britt 12, Tom Webley 12, Reuben Te Rangi 10, Alex Talma 10)

Forward Tom Vodanovich, named NBL Most Valuable Player this week, paced Manawatu with 28 points, including four three-pointers, as they rallied down the stretch of their semi against Taranaki.

Tom Vodanovich in action against Taranaki.
Tom Vodanovich in action against Taranaki. Photo credit: Photosport

After resting their kingpin in Tuesday's meaningless top-of-the-table clash against Otago, the Jets began the better, producing a 12-2 run to build a double-figure advantage after the opening stanza.

With Derone Raukawa and Marcel Jones leading the way, the Airs clawed back into the contest to lead by five late in the third quarter, but Manawatu scored 12 unanswered points in the final period to turn the tables and secure their second-ever NBL finals appearance.  

Vodanovich found ample support from his teammates, with Taane Samuel outduelling rival centre Tai Wynyard for 23 points and Hyrum Harris flirting with an extremely rare quadruple-double (17 points/13 rebounds/seven assists/seven steals), as the Jets put the defensive clamps on their opponents.

They forced the Airs into twice as many turnovers and executed to the tune of 24 team assists.

Raukawa led the Taranaki effort with 32 points, but Jones showed signs of wear after a gruelling schedule, shooting just 10/26 from the field for his 25 points/13 rebounds. Between them, the All-Star duo turned the ball over 12 times.

Manawatu Jets 105 (Tom Vodanovich 28, Taane Samuel 23, Jayden Bezzant 17, Hyrum Harris 17, Ashton McQueen 11) Taranaki Mountainairs 95 (Derone Raukawa 32, Marcel Jones 25, Shane Temara 13)