The Tall Blacks are underway at the FIBA Asia Cup, with a resounding 70-49 win over Kazakhstan in Beirut today, in the opening game of the tournament.
Derone Raukawa continued his good tour, with a game high 17 points on 7 of 12 shooting, again providing impetus from the bench for coach Paul Henare.
“Derone has been a spark for us this whole campaign and we need him to play with that confidence and keep the scoreboard ticking over. It always helps when guys make shots, but the majority of our offence came from defensive pressure and keeping them under the pump the whole time. As long as we maintain that intensity, good things will happen for us,” Henare said.
The Tall Blacks started a little nervously, perhaps understandably for a team so light on experience, shooting at just 31% in the first half. But lock down defence and an inability by Kazakhstan to handle the defensive pressure saw the Kiwis leading at the main break, with Shea Ili leading the scorers with seven first half points.
The second half saw a scoring explosion on the back of threes from Jordan Ngatai and Finn Delany, and two strong drives to the basket by Shea Ili, and the game was blown wide open with the Tall Blacks leading 49-33.
Kazakhstan threatened a comeback, but that was quickly shut down by a Henare time out and a suitable response from the New Zealanders, led by Raukawa who led all scorers in the match with 17 points on 7 of 12 shooting. The livewire guard had 6 rebounds and 3 assists on a busy night, while Delany had his best game of the tour with a double/double of 15 points and 10 rebounds.
Raukawa plays with smile on his face and eternal optimism, something that spreads to those around him on whatever team he is playing for.
“That is my job, I love the responsibility to come off the bench and provide that spark and that energy along with some scoring. Nothing phases me, I like to call myself a hooper, whatever the situation, whoever the opposition, I just love to get out there and pay ball. I have to thank my ‘bigs’ today, they set some great screens and helped me get some good open looks.”
Henare was pleased overall with the opening effort, but equally keen to improve ahead of the next game against Lebanon.
“This is a great start, they should take a lot of confidence from this game, the scoreboard stretched out at the end but Kazakhstan can play, they are all fulltime professionals and we are not, so to play the way we played was pleasing. There were some defensive breakdowns that led to buckets and as always, there is plenty we can improve on.
Captain Reuben Te Rangi finished with 7 points, a rebound, 3 assists and four steals, James Hunter made his presence felt with 6 points, 3 rebounds and 2 steals while Luke Aston played the final 5 and a half minutes recording a rebound and a steal.
The Tall Blacks' next game is against host Lebanon at 6am Friday morning (NZ time).
Meanwhile 2017 Sharks Nick Kay and Mitch Norton helped get Australia off to a winning start in its 84-68 victory over Japan. Kay finished with 7 points on 3 of 4 shooting. Our Aussie mates take on Honk Kong at 1am Friday morning (NZ time).
Image and video courtesy of FIBA