The Giants bid farewell to their faithful in thrilling fashion on Saturday night, knocking off the table-topping Wellington Saints in an exhilarating encounter to declare themselves serious title contenders.
They needed extra time to do it, but the Mike Pero Giants pipped the Saints 90-87 without star forward Finn Delany in their last, and by far best, game at the Hangar this season.
Locked up at 82 apiece after forty minutes of frenetic basketball, the Giants held their nerve in a tense final five minutes to hand the Saints just their third loss of the season.
With finals’ basketball just around the corner, coach Jamie Pearlman says this is just the beginning.
“We are by no means done, we started the season with one goal in mind and that’s what we are going for.”
He says that goal is to win an NBL championship.
“The guys are really focused, they toil really hard and that’s all to play finals basketball.”
Shooting guard Damon Heuir led the way for the hosts, topping the point scoring charts with 30, also nabbing five turnovers and four rebounds.
“It was a really gutsy effort, especially down the stretch in overtime, we really lifted our defence and came up with some massive shots.”
The Cairns Taipan drained half a dozen three pointers in his man of the match performance.
“I didn’t shoot the ball very well this week, so I was happy to see a few go down early.”
Heuir says, while they will take plenty of confidence from the win, there is still plenty of work to do.
“It’s really good to play that way at the end of the season. It’s a big win, but still taking it one game at a time.”
The first meeting between the two sides this season also doubled as a top of the table clash.
The Giants were without Tall Black star Finn Delany, who was sitting out a second consecutive match with a groin injury.
It was a bumper atmosphere at the Trafalgar Centre which was only 97 fans short of a full house.
The hosts maintained a slim lead throughout the first two periods, before LJ Peak nailed a three pointer right on the buzzer to steal the lead for the Saints at three-quarter time.
Tohi Smith-Milner made his presence felt at both ends of the court, netting 15 points and nabbing 8 rebounds for the Giants, while Jerry Evans Jnr contributed 23 rebounds in total. The Saints put up three shots in the dying seconds of the fourth, all three rolling off the rim, forcing over-time for the first time at the Hangar this season.
In the final minute of the extra period, it was still anyone’s ball game, Heuir put Nelson ahead by one with 36 seconds remaining, before a Smith-Milner lay-up made it a three-point margin as the Giants faithful erupted.
The Saints had a final chance to tie it up but Shea Illi’s attempt from outside the arc was astray.
Following the game, point guard Kyle Adnam was presented with the people’s choice MVP award and was quick to acknowledge his teammates.
“It’s a credit to these guys, they make me look good.”
The Giants now turn their attention to their final two games of the regular season, backing up against the Saints in the capital on Thursday before heading south to meet the Sharks in Invercargill on Sunday.
Finals weekend in Wellington will begin on August 3.