Saints win two, home and away to stay top of table.
The Wellington Saints played the Bay Hawks on Sunday night in Wellington, and then the Nelson Giants away, in a rescheduled game after a COVID interrupted week of NZ NBL.
The first game, even without fans due to the aforementioned COVID scare in the Capital, was a classic between the league's two best teams.
Managing some injuries, the Saints had a shortened rotation in what was an offensive affair for both teams. Taane Samuel had had a couple quiet games recently, but he had one of his games of the season as he and captain Dion Prewster scored well in the first.
An explosive first quarter for both teams saw 60 combined points.
The Hawks had the better of the second quarter as Saints turnovers impacted their offense.
Tall Black Ethan Rusbatch was on early for the Hawks, scoring inside and out, but the Saints worked their way to a nine-point lead at halftime.
Tohi Smith-Milner continued his strong form, with nice passes for teammates and scoring as well. The Saints were still struggling to hold onto the ball, but still scored well, mainly through Prewster, but the Hawks were better in the third, as Rusbatch continued to have his way.
Smith-Milner was prominent in the final quarter, as the lead went back and forth. The game came down right down to the wire, with a Samuel three and Kerwin Roach free throws giving a two-point lead with 52 seconds on the clock.
A Hawks three was followed by a Saints turnover, and then they had to play the foul game to stop the clock. Rusbatch made both, leaving the Saints down by three with nine seconds on the clock.
A Coronel play was drawn up for a three, but it didn’t eventuate, so Smith-Milner got to the perimeter and pulled up for a beautiful off-the-dribble three to stun the Hawks and force overtime.
This broke the back of the Hawks, as the overtime was all Saints. Samuel was unstoppable from three as he swished two in the OT period.
Prewster and Samuel then piled on the pain as they finished the Hawks off.
Final score Saints 119 - Hawks 112.
In the Wednesday game, the Giants started well with defensive stops and even an eight-second call on the Saints early as they went down by four.
Some uncharacteristic mistakes on both ends had the visitors scoreless through 3 minutes before some Saints defense led to their first score.
Turnovers were the theme of the first quarter for the Saints but they still brought it back with some excellent plays on both ends.
Coach Coronel was using more of his bench early, rotating some of his main guys after the overtime tussle in the last game.
The younger guys provided some value as Ezra Vaigafa got on the score sheet, and the Saints defense intensified.
Taane Samuel followed up his great form from the week before with some great inside finishing as they took the lead for the first time halfway through the second.
It was a still low-scoring game though, just 26 - 27 three-quarters through the second.
It was back and forth after this, with the Saints taking a one-point lead into the break.
A back and forth start in the second kept the game even, with Prewster scoring while the Giants went to the line.
The Giants carved out a lead in the third as they got out to six ahead.
It was import Donte Ingram who was scoring in the third and giving the Saints trouble. But Smith-Milner was able to score inside throughout the quarter to pull the deficit back to one point.
It was the Saints who started the fourth well, quickly getting out to a five-point lead.
The exciting Roach and Hale were trading blows in the second as the game stayed close.
A massive Samuel and-one and a finish in the pick and roll had the Saints lead out to nine though, and it was all Saints in the fourth as they finished it out efficiently in the last five minutes.
Final score 86 Saints - Giants 74.
Key stats from both games
Taane Samuel 33 points with 6 made threes
Dion Prewster 34 points with 8 rebounds and 9 assists.
Taane Samuel 25 points on 9 of 14 from the field
Dion Prewster 20 points on 7 of 10 shooting.