A steal and bucket by Ray Cowells has helped guide the Nelson Giants to a 68-66 win over the Taranaki Mountainairs.

It was going to be an important game for both teams who are well in the hunt for a post season berth, and tonight it was the Giants who maintained their position in the top four with their eighth win of the season.

Cowells has been the go to guy for the Giants all season and tonight he proved why he is one of the most valuable players in the competition with 31 points and six steals. Cowells did not have a great shooting night (8/21 FG), nor did the rest of his team mates, shooting 20/60 (33%) from the field, but the former Santa Clara University standout converted 12/15 free throws.

For the Airs the loss puts a big dent on their playoff aspirations, and tomorrow they will have arguably a must win game in the capital against the top of the table Saints. Jordan Ngatai led the team with 20 points on 9/14 shooting and Aaron Bailey-Nowell had a double-double of 13 points and 11 rebounds before fouling out with 2 minutes left.

Taranaki welcomed back small forward Marcus Johnson, who did have good moments in the game with 12 points, but shot 3/13 and committed seven turnovers. But it was a tough night in particular for Airs coach Ross McMains who did the best to balance the minutes of his four best players who all played lesser than normal minutes due to foul trouble.

The first half was ugly, neither team shooting over 35% from the field, and both combined for 21 turnovers (Giants 12, Airs 9). Nelson also struggled from beyond the arc, shooting 3/15, but were able to stifle the Airs offense with their zone. Cowells carried the side with 13 first half points to give the visitors a 32-30 lead at halftime.

The Airs stayed in the contest with 13 offensive rebounds and making the most of second chance opportunities. A floater from a well-executed play by Ngatai gave him 14 points at the half.

Nelson started the third quarter well pushing their lead to nine, and when Ngatai and Miller each committed their fourth fouls it looked like the Giants would extend their lead, but instead Taranaki were able to close the quarter with 7-1 run to close the deficit to three.

In the fourth Taranaki would get their first lead since the first half of 62-60 thanks to an open three by point guard Jackson Stubbins. Taranaki then pushed their lead to four after a jump shot at the top of the key by Johnson.

But the Giants were able to rally from a Ben Strong hook shoot, and a foul on Cowells while shooting a three gave the Giants the opportunity to regain the lead. Cowells would make two out of three to tie the scores at 64 all.

Cowells would score the last six Nelson points to put them to 8-6 for the season, a half game lead on the SIT Zerofees Sharks. The Giants now will travel north to play the second placed James Blond Supercity Rangers (8-5) on Saturday and whoever wins, could take the top spot if Wellington loses.

NZ NBL Ladder
Wellington Saints 16
Super City Rangers 16
Canterbury Rams 16
Nelson Giants 16
Southland Sharks 14
Taranaki Mountainairs 10
Bay Hawks 0