Basketball: 'Dogfight' final on the cards

By Peter Jessup

The National Basketball League final tonight throws together the two best attacking teams in the league and includes an intriguing match-up of the country's two best point guards.

Tall Blacks incumbent Paul Henare has great respect for the up-and-coming Lindsay Tait, who on Wednesday was named the NBL's MVP for this season, and knows Tait will continue to push him for the job with the national team. Conversely, Tait has admitted he was inspired by Henare as he came through the grades and admires him as a benchmark in the back-court position.

Both teams have impressive line-ups loaded with Australian NBL and international experience. Both like to play an up-tempo game and both have lots of scoring options.

For the Stars, Tait is one of the best. He has averaged 20.9 points this season, 21 last year. He has a "hesitation dribble" that stalls opponents and leaves them scrambling to defend as he runs, he likes to drive to the basket, he can shoot well from three-point range.

Henare's role for the Hawks is different, more the offensive and defensive organiser, setting the attack patterns and delivering the ball to the guy who delivers it to the basket, marshalling the team when the opposition is on the break.

He agreed yesterday that one of his main jobs tonight will be trying to contain Tait, that the winner of that contest might be the winner of the game. "I guess it's a good comparison for the media and fans but for me I'm not concentrating on him, it's just a matter of playing a bloody talented guy. I definitely rate him as one of the best if not the best at getting his own shot off. He's absolutely dynamic in the open court and when you close that he can step back and shoot the three. I respect him."

Of the Tall Black competition that promises to fester between the two for the foreseeable future, Henare feels it is good for them and the team. "We have two contrasting styles and that chemistry or formula is perfect really. He has that potential to score, my trademark is more the organiser, making sure everything runs smoothly."

Henare, 26, went back to the Bay, his home, after winning two national titles under national coach Tab Baldwin at Auckland. He has a goal to help build the Hawks to a team others in the competition respect, one expected to deliver a tough game every game, one that will win titles and build tradition.

"We struggled when I first came back in 2002, the next season was better and last year you could really feel things starting to come together," he said. "This season we were slow out of the blocks but we've adjusted. As they say, good things take a while.

Tait, 23, had the perfect sporting pedigree, grandmother Jane Tehira, the first woman to represent New Zealand at three sports, softball, basketball and hockey. His mum Tui played basketball for New Zealand and English-born dad Mike represented that country then New Zealand at basketball.

He's had lots of winning posts in his short career, leading the Avondale College team to the national secondary schools' title in 1999 and tasting NBL success in his first year with the Stars in 2000 and again last season, helping the Tall Blacks to a series win over the Czech Republic in his first year with them.

Tall Blacks coach Tab Baldwin will be in the crowd and is looking forward to that confrontation and others. "The match-ups could make this a classic final. The rivalry between Paul and Lindsay has been building for the past couple of years and it's going to be played out for several years to come. Pauli is the floor general, Lindsay is the guy who can come in and give you quick points and lift a team into some up-tempo basketball."

Prediction? "A dogfight. It's too close to call. You weigh up the factors and neither team stands above the other. It will come down to which makes big plays at the end."

Lindsay Tait

* Born 8/1/82 Sydney Australia.
* 1.93m 90kg
* Avondale College
*90 NBL games for Auckland since debut 2000. Averages 20.9 points at 49.7pc accuracy, 4.1 assists, 1.4 steals.
* NZ Under-18 and U-20 rep. Tall Blacks debut 2003 v Czech Republic. 4 games.

Paul Henare

* Born 4/3/79 Hawkes Bay.
* 1.82m 93kg.
* Napier Boys High School, Utah Valley College, US.
* 164 NBL games for Hawks 1995-97, Auckland 1998-2001, Hawks 2002-2005. Averages 9.1 pts, 40pc accuracy, 5.2 assists, 2.4 steals.
* Tall Blacks debut 2000 Sydney Olympics. 60 games, nine at world champs 2002, 12 at Sydney and Athens Olympics.

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