Much-improved Nuggets fall short

Canterbury Rams player Joe Cook-Green drives while guarded by Otago Nuggets defender Darcy Knox...
Canterbury Rams player Joe Cook-Green drives while guarded by Otago Nuggets defender Darcy Knox during a National Basketball League game in Christchurch on Saturday night. PHOTO: KAI SCHWOERER
Any question over whether Joe Cook-Green still has it should now be well and truly answered.

The deadly pull-up jumper — it is still there.

The monster full-court and perimeter defence — it is still there.

The ability to completely take over a game — yep, it is still there.

And the Otago Nuggets felt his full wrath in Christchurch on Saturday night.

The Canterbury Rams guard put on a scintillating display to sink his old team 79-75.

Cook-Green, who is from Dunedin and debuted for the Nuggets as a year 12 pupil at Otago Boys’ High School in 2014, dropped 30 points on 10-of-19 shooting.

However, it was on the other side of the ball that he did most of his damage.

The 24-year-old, who missed most of the past two seasons with an ACL injury, clamped the Otago backcourt — more than once taking the ball off Nuggets guard Nikau McCullough in the full court.

The Nuggets stuck around, in a much-improved display after a big loss on Thursday night to the Nelson Giants, but came up just short.

"Obviously we’re disappointed with the result," Nuggets coach Brent Matehaere said.

"I think we had our chances and we didn’t execute down the stretch. Obviously Joe Cook-Green had a great game.

"He was really effective — 10 of 19 from the field and he knocked down four of six from the three-point line. That was probably the difference.

"You look across the stat line and they had one extra three-point shot made and three free throws, that was probably the difference. It was the tightest of margins.

"I felt we had the opportunity there and we didn’t take it. So obviously a little bit disappointed, but certainly some promising signs there."

Both teams were without their imports, and while Cook-Green filled that void for the Rams, Sam Timmins played much more like himself for the Nuggets.

He had 24 points, 14 rebounds and five assists, attacking the rim more aggressively and shooting more confidently than he had in the opener.

McCullough added 16 points, although was turnover-prone.

Guards Darcy Knox and Joe Ahie also stepped up with 10 and nine points each.

It was arguably Knox’s best display in a Nuggets uniform, dishing five assists and grabbing five rebounds.

Notably, he had no turnovers, while also playing with confidence to attack and often providing a ball-handling pressure release.

The Nuggets started well and jumped out to an 11-3 lead, crucially getting key Rams guard Taylor Britt in early foul trouble.

However, when McCullough got into foul trouble of his own, momentum swung back to the Rams.

The Nuggets offence stalled, while Cook-Green began heating up to take the Rams on an 18-5 run to finish the quarter.

The score remained close throughout, before Britt (12 points, six assists) stepped up to guide the Rams in the key moments down the stretch.

While the Nuggets had their chances down the stretch, Matehaere felt there were big improvements from the first game.

"Poise and execution," he said.

"We probably took more better shots in that game than we did in the first. I think that was the key.

"I thought we started the game really well, the first four or five possessions we executed and scored. Then probably for the next little bit we failed to capitalise on it."

The Nuggets’ import trio will link with the team for this Saturday’s game against the Wellington Saints.

Mojave King, son of Otago Nuggets great Leonard, made his debut for the Southland Sharks and scored 23 points in 24 minutes in a 117-81 thumping of the Saints.

Rob Loe (17 points, 17 rebounds) led the Auckland Tuatara to a 92-59 win over the Taranaki Airs, and the Franklin Bulls beat the Hawke’s Bay Hawks 79-74.

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