New Zealand 59
The Tall Blacks showed they could be a force to be reckoned with on the international stage before being seen off with relative ease by Australia tonight.
The young Tall Blacks bossed the star-studded visitors for the first half and remained in touch in the third quarter, but Australia's quality and deep bench eventually shone through.
Even with both sides already qualified for next year's Basketball World Cup, no one at the North Shore Events Centre was expecting anything but a fierce battle in the first game of the Fiba Oceania Championships. And that's what the crowd were treated to for three-and-a-half quarters.
But the Boomers' pressing defence and offensive outburst in the fourth will make the task difficult for the Tall Blacks if they wish to win the series in Canberra on Sunday.
"The last quarter, we really dropped in our performance,'' said coach Nenad Vucinic.
"Whether there were valid excuses or not, it's for us to analyse in the next couple of days before the second game.''
Shorn of several players, including prestigious pair Kirk Penney and Steven Adams, New Zealand made a good account for themselves, evidently enhanced by some time together and a few games in a recent tour of China.
Other key players were also short of match fitness but that will provide little consolation when the Tall Blacks reflect on another loss to their transtasman neighbours, who are still a step or two ahead.
"Alex [Pledger] and Tom [Abercrombie] are not really in their best condition,'' Vucinic said. "They haven't really played any games and guys like Mika [Vukona] and Corey [Webster] had to take a lot on themselves. We ran out of options, I think.''
Pledger was in his first action since cutting down the nets in Perth in April, and early on he was a typically formidable presence under his own rim. His defensive intensity was matched by his teammates to help the Tall Blacks lead for most the quarter, until a buzzer-beating triple Boomers forward Ryan Broekhoff snatched a 21-18 advantage at the opening break.
Just when Australia's depth looked set to tell, back-to-back threes from Casey Frank seized the initiative and the hosts took command in the second. Vukona was unusually effective getting to the rim for his nine first-half points, while some wayward shooting from the visitors (37 per cent from the field, 23 per cent from deep) saw the Tall Blacks lead by seven at the major break.
Whatever Andrej Lemanis said at the half seemed to help his side shake off their offensive lethargy as Australia came storming back into the contest. Patty Mills, the only man on the floor with an NBA contract, at times scored at ease, but Webster was proving his equal and led the Tall Blacks with 14.
The battle of the guards captured the eye and Mills' seven points in the period looked to have opened a handy buffer heading into the final quarter, before Reuben Te Rangi drained a huge three to cut the deficit to two.
Unfortunately for the home side, shots weren't dropping quite as readily in the fourth as they were earlier, allowing Australia to keep their hosts at arm's length.
And the size of that arm extended as the period wore on, with New Zealand's offence running cold at the worst time.
New Zealand 59 (Webster 14, Vukona 11, Frank 9)
Australia 70 (Mills 20, Dellavedova 12, Andersen 11)