The Canterbury Rams have overcome a lacklustre start to eventually pull away from the Taranaki Mountainairs, winning 90-71 in the National Basketball League this afternoon.
To be blunt from the get-go, it should never have been that close. The Airs were missing import centre Daniel Gomis and their valuable starting point guard Houston O'Riley, will the talent-laden Rams had recently added last year's MVP McKenzie Moore to their already strong roster.
But, as has become a constant refrain with the Rams, they lacked effort and intensity early on as the Airs received quality performances from three of their healthy regular starters.
With Curtis Washington (15 points, 13 rebounds) holding his own on the glass, Tylor Ongwae (24 points, eight rebounds, six assists) providing his usual production at both ends, and Alonzo Burton (18 points, six rebounds) hitting some valuable threes, the short-handed Airs put together their best showing in several weeks.
For low-budget teams like Taranaki, injuries can be devastating, which is largely why they have slumped from 3-1 to 3-9 without Gomis, possibly the best defensive player in the league.
Without their floor general in O'Riley, the Airs were forced to play without a true point guard, instead trying to cobble minutes from the athletic Dane Brooks, perpetually hobbled Brad Anderson and inexperienced Jaylen Gerrand at the guard spots.
Up front, Xavier Shaw and Thane O'Leary have had to be extended into roles which exceed their current production level due to Gomis' injury, creating a trickle-down effect which leaves the bench lacking a scoring punch, as well as missing their defensive anchor.
It is unsurprising, then, that the Airs haven't been able to find success of late, though their recent losses (30 points, 26 points and 23 points) have been un-encouragingly lopsided.
Whether it was their improved showing or the Rams' lack of intensity which saw the score sit at 59-58 after three quarters is hard to peg. As always, the answer is probably a bit of both, though the Rams certainly weren't helping their cause with some sloppy shot selection and spurts of general apathy on defence.
That switch was flicked in the final quarter though, with Rams point guard Jeremy Kendle knocking down shots to quickly build a double-digit lead. With Moore showing the defensive instincts which made him MVP, and Marques Whippy (15 points, nine boards) putting in his usual high-energy work on the glass, the Rams slowly edged away as the Airs' lack of half-court creation became more evident.
Kendle led all scorers with 29 points, Moore had 14 points, six rebounds, six assists and four steals, while the undulating Marcel Jones finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds.
The Rams, who now hold a 6-6 record, won the final quarter 31-13, and they were lucky they did, as they raced out of the building at 4.50pm to catch their 5.38pm flight.