“Where is everybody” ?
The Southland Sharks will be one of the few teams or organisers who will look back at the 2013 National Basketball League finals weekend at the Pettigrew-Green Arena (PGA) in Napier with any sort of fondness as the showpiece of New Zealand’s Premier domestic Basketball competition went off with a whimper rather than the bang it deserved in the weekend.
The bold decision to take NBL finals weekend away from Wellington to the provinces, following the outstanding previous two finals weekends badly backfired on organisers with a crowd on semi-final Saturday that could only be classed as embarrassing. Thankfully organisers managed to rally interest 24 hours later ensuring that the PGA was at least half-full for the Grand Final match on Sunday evening.
They also cleverly managed to ‘Phoenix’ the TV coverage by stacking the crowd on the Eastern side of the PGA and the Sky cameras on the opposite (removing the red seats that were on show during the semis that reminded me of the yellow ones at most Hurricanes games). While the reason for the poor turnout can largely be attributed to the failure of the Bay Hawks from making the playoffs, Hawke’s Bay lacked the population base or die-hard Basketball community to counter this.
Additionally, a grand final deserves better pre-game entertainment than Marching Girls and rapper King Kapisi backed with a sound system that simply wasn’t up to it.
On court, the story was entirely different with three quality games of Hoops on show where the Paul Henare coached Southland Sharks out-thought and out hussled the much vaunted and star studded Wellington Saints who simply ran out of ideas in the first Semi Final by 81-66. The second semi final saw the season’s big improvers the Otago Nuggets run down in the fourth quarter by an experienced Nelson Giants outfit on the back of a cluster of Josh Bloxham three-balls and some typical Mika Vikona hussle.
The final was mostly one way traffic where the Sharks, on the back of superior inside presence and offensive rebounding, leapt out to a 25 point lead which Nelson, despite trying until the bitter end (and it was bitter with NZ Breaker Mika Vikona exchanging pleasantries with his soon-to-be assistant coach Henare) weren’t able to haul in. Henare’s coaching again came to the fore where a series of superbly scheduled timeouts and expletive laden team talks ensured the Giants comeback fell short. The Breakers appear to have chosen well there.
The league is strong but the quality of the games can also be attributed to a vastly improved refereeing standard where it appears much work has been undertaken. The players decided the outcome of all three games with the referees largely invisible which are how playoffs should be. Kudos to whoever trains New Zealand’s NBL refs and can the NZRFU please take note.
The game of Basketball in New Zealand is riding an all time high at present due to a number of well documented reasons including Steve Adams, the Breakers and a plethora of NBA on Television and the Internet. The game at domestic level has never been stronger. This makes it vital that the organisers of the showpiece of the domestic league ensure that last weekend’s fizzer is never repeated.
Take the game to the provinces by all means, but don’t do it to the games showpiece unless you are absolutely sure you can put on a better show than Wellington does.