Auckland NBL Champions
Grant Chapman – Auckland Pirates
The James Blond Auckland Pirates are 2012 Bartercard NBL champions!
In a tense encounter, the Pirates outlasted two-time defending champions Wellington Saints 89-83 in the final at Wellington’s TSB Bank Arena on Sunday.
Trailing late in the third quarter, they closed the period with eight straight points that gave them an advantage they never conceded down the home straight. Saints closed within three points with just over a minute remaining, but just couldn’t compelte the comeback.
American Ernest Scott led all scorers with 28 points and a virtuoso shooting display that included six three-pointers, for Saints. Centre Alex Pledger was the rock for Auckland with 20 points and nine rebounds, while American Ron Dorsey had 18 points and fellow import chipped in 14 points.
Through the opening the exchanges, neither team seemed prepared to give and inch, but Pledger didn’t enjoy the best of starts, blowing two simple layups and heading to the bench with two early fouls.
Muhammad was making up for these lapses, scoring nine quick points.
Dorsey and point guard Lindsay Tait had five points each in 12-4 run that had Auckland up 28-21 at the break.
But while Casey Frank continued to harass his opposites to good effect, Scott was providing the scoring punch for the champs, dragging the contest back to level terms with a pair of treys early in the second period.
Pledger returned for a brief flourish, enough to help his side six points clear midway through the quarter, before picking up his third personal and returning to the bench. Wellington quickly erased that advantage with nine unanswered points, capped by another Scott trey, and another long-distance effort from American Jason Crowe put the hosts ahead 48-46 at halftime.
The Pirates had allowed their urgency to slip to the point where their final play of the half rather typified their state of mind. With six-tenths of a second left on the clock, they allowed a baseline inbounds pass travel the entire length of the court with no one touching it, gifting the Saints one last play that should have been theirs.
Scott connected again after the restart to stretch the margin to five, but five straight from Dorsey closed the gap and a nine-point run, punctuated by Hayden Allen’s three-pointer, had the Pirates clear again.
Treys from Scott – his fifth – Crowe and Troy McLean swept Wellington back into ascendancy, but their rivals responded with an eight-point run that had them 71-64 up with 10 minutes to play.
While Saints were converting efficiently from afar (10/18 3pt), the Pirates had grabbed nine offensive rebounds and held the edge in scoring in the paint (34-36) and second-chance points (9-0).
With little over three minutes left, the lead was eight, but yet another Scott trey gave he titleholders a sniff of a chance and Auckland could only respond with a long-range airball as the shot clock expired.
With 1m 22s on the clock, Jeremy Kench cut the margin to just three with a layup and Wellington got the ball back when Pledger travelled at the other end. But they could make nothing of it and Muhammad capitalized on an offensive board with 26.7s left.
Saints needed to score from their next possession, but couldn’t and had to resort to fouling, a battle they were never likely to win.
Auckland achieved their victory on the back of a 13-2 second-chance point advantage and 14/18 from the free-throw line. They had limited their own mistakes to just 10 turnovers.
After his shaky start, Pledger emerged as the game’s dominant individual and was duly awarded Most Valuable Player.
Sunday, May 27
James Blond Auckland Pirates 89 (Alex Pledger 20, Ron Dorsey 18, Ismail Muhammad 16) Wellington Saints 83 (Ernest Scott 28, Casey Frank 19, Troy McLean 10, Jason Crowe 10), Final
Live on Sky Sport
HT: 46-48 (18-27)
3Q: 71-64 (25-16)
FT: 89-83 (18-19)