Basketball: PG Arena fortress for NBL's pretenders

By Anendra Singh

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Paora Winitana tries to gather, with Kareem Johnson (headband) and Darryl Jones in support. Saints' BJ Anthony, Jordan Ngatai and Ernest Scott watch. Photo/Glenn Taylor
Paora Winitana tries to gather, with Kareem Johnson (headband) and Darryl Jones in support. Saints' BJ Anthony, Jordan Ngatai and Ernest Scott watch. Photo/Glenn Taylor

Covers band Streight Up had Hawke's Bay basketball fans moving and shaking during halftime in Napier.

Great stuff but it wouldn't have mattered if the entertainers had not performed because the IMS Payroll Hawks simply rocked on Saturday night during the top-of-the table Bartercard National Basketball League (NBL) match.

The Tab Baldwin-coached Hawks ground down the Pacific Jewellers Saints 88-78, to remain undefeated at the Pettigrew-Green Arena, Taradale, in six outings this season.

Locked 52-52 at halftime, there was no shortage of razzmatazz for the 65 per cent-full arena.

Everard Bartlett ended the first quarter, 28-22, in the Hawks' favour the way he had started - dropping his signature bombs from downtown.

US import centre Dustin Scott put in a couple of huge blocks and then goaded the Saints, as sharp shooter Corey Webster nibbled on the bait.

Captain Paora Winitana dunked then put Scott through for a roof-lifting slam dunk. He stole the Saints' march again for US import forward Kareem Johnson to claim two points.

Johnson then found himself at the end of an alley-oop, following a Bartlett assist.

Saints Damien Ekenasio and Bartlett clashed heads before returning to the coal face looking like war veterans.

Hawks point guard Jarrod Kenny dropped a shot from the bottom of the D to signal halftime but referee Yalla Edwards chucked cold water on a three-point celebration, ruling it a two.

Baldwin charged in to deliberate in what was bottled up frustration against her interpretation of contacts and violations.

But all the above were not the reasons why the Hawks had ascendancy. No, it boiled down to four minutes of play from the start of the third quarter, when the Saints couldn't buy a point as the hosts opened a nine-point deficit, 66-52.

Saints coach Shane Heal called for two huddles before the Saints found traction, with ex-Hawk Dion Prewster worming his way through a busy lane for a basket.

"It was a great game. The defensive end is where we won it," a battered and bruised Bartlett said in the locker room.

Having returned from Christchurch on Saturday morning after a convincing win over the Canterbury Rams the night before, the shooting guard felt the men had shown heart and courage.

"They [Saints] offensively have so many weapons, so for us to do what we did in the defensive end was just outstanding." With the Saints winning in overtime in Wellington in the season opener, Bartlett said the Hawks were mindful they owed the visitors one.

"That's what made that victory so sweet, you know, getting them back on our home turf by more points than they got us."

The Hawks, he said, were deservedly back on the top of the NBL table after beating some top teams and back-to-back double headers, including the Deep South. He put it down to the coach, players, management and a solid pre-season.

"I want to shout out to our supporters and sponsors for turning up and backing us," he said, urging fans to keep their unblemished home run going.

"We need to protect our record at home and keep that streak going."

Scott scored 20 points and nine rebounds, while Johnson had a back-to-back double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds, seven defensive ones.

Kenny contributed 16 points and five rebounds, while Bartlett added 14 points and seven assists.

Heal agreed the score-less stretch from the third spell cost them the game.

``It's disappointing. We broke down and probably didn't share the ball like we needed to.''

The ex-Boomer said the Hawks were convincing winners and the final score ``actually complimented us''.

``I thought they were a much better team than a 10-point one against us.''

If anything, the Saints were too reliant on Webster although Kenny sporadically kept the NZ Breaker on a leash despite his game-high 28 points.

BJ Anthony chimed in with 21 points and seven rebounds but Heal cut point guard Lindsay Tait
some slack for directing traffic with five assists and 14 points.

``If Corey isn't capable of shooting the ball then we need to find other options,'' said Heal, adding the loss was timely to tweak and get up to speed to the level of the Hawks.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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