After three days and 70 games of brutal basketball, the Etco Auckland Dream and the SIT Zero Fees Southland Sharks have etched their way into NBL history as the inaugural victors of the NBL’s Schick 3X3 Cup.
Never before has this level of 3X3 basketball been seen in New Zealand and the grand finals did not disappoint with two fast, furious and physical performances.
Men’s Grand Final
Touted as the TAB’s odds-on favourite to win this event, the Taylor Hawke’s Bay Hawks had a mixed trip to the playoffs with a two and two journey to the semi-final. Yet this is a team of players who know how to bring a winning game on big occasions. Ethan Rusbatch and Derone Raukawa put on an acrobatic stage-show with Everard Bartlett and Taane Samuel to overcome the NZ Select team who have been admirable in competition, exceeding expectations at this event (they ruined the Tasman Sun’s fairy-tale by knocking them out of contention earlier in the day).
The Hawks match up against hometown heroes, the Southland Sharks, summed up with all the glory of 3X3 hoops with 40 stunning points, where the two teams traded blows all the way to 19-all.
Derone Raukawa hit a hot streak for the Hawks with four twos, but Hyrum Harris was unfazed. The running shot-machine combined with the doggedness of Dom Kelman-Poto, the inside-experience of Alex Pledger and the hot-hand Alonzo Burton. At a moment when it was next two-pointer wins, it was Burton who sent the locals into glorified celebrations when he was dished up a treat and hit the game winner.
It was the perfect end for the gracious host-city at one of New Zealand’s best venues in ILT Stadium Southland. What a final, what an event!
Final score: Southland Sharks 21, Hawke’s Bay Hawks 19.
Women’s Grand Final
The Dream swooped into their final by over-coming the valiant NZ Select women’s team in the semis, but it came at a cost. Darci Finnigan was injured midway, twisting a knee in a moment of desperate defence. Her three teammates, already fatigued, managed to battle on for the 21 to 14 victory and a date with their long-time rivals, the Platinum Homes Harbour Breeze.
The Breeze never seemed in doubt at this event, displaying a mostly flawless performance throughout. Sky Sport Tall Ferns players Ella Fotu, Brooke Blair, Ashleigh Kelman-Poto plus Jazzmyne Kailahi-Fulu seemed to pick teams apart like vultures and without Finnigan, the Dream may have been considered wounded prey. Yet somehow Darci Finnigan checked in.
Finnigan’s time was limited in the grand final, but she seemed to provide valuable breathers for Amanda Wayment, Arielle Williams-Mackey and Casyn Buchman. These three played like wolves, facing up to the number one seeds with ferocity.
The Breeze got control early in game and was pulling away until 18-year-old Williams-Mackey swept in with four big two-pointers, firing the Dream back into contention. Wayment added one to tie it up at 16-all. Then, with six seconds to go, Buchman hit a clean two-pointer. It would be the dagger as the clock ticked out, cementing the Dream’s victory and giving them another national title for the trophy cabinet.
Final score: Auckland Dream, 18. Harbour Breeze, 16.