Nuggets lose their shine

Otago Nuggets point guard Darcy Knox hustles up court, watched by Taranaki Airs player Mitch...
Otago Nuggets point guard Darcy Knox hustles up court, watched by Taranaki Airs player Mitch McCarron, in their NBL game at the Edgar Centre last night. PHOTO: GREGOR RICHARDSON
There will be little room for error for the Otago Nuggets in the final rounds of the national league.

The Nuggets stalled in their push for the playoffs with a 101-88 loss to the Taranaki Airs at the Edgar Centre last night.

An inconsistent defensive effort and some cold scoring spells made it difficult for the home side to hold off a Taranaki team that got hot in the right moments.

Zaccheus Darko-Kelly had his best game for the Nuggets with 24 points (5-of-7 from three-point range), 11 rebounds and five assists.

Kimani Lawrence added 29 points on 13-of-21 shooting, and Matt Bardsley hustled in 14 points off the bench.

Carlin Davison powered the Airs with 26 points and 11 rebounds, Elijah Minnie had 16 points, and wily guard Mitch McCarron had a nice double of 13 points and 10 assists.

Darcy Knox started at the point for the Nuggets in the absence of Dontae Russo-Nance.

The rising youngster suffered a high ankle sprain in training this week and will get an MRI scan today to see how bad it looks.

While the Nuggets missed Russo-Nance’s offensive spark, it was the defensive end that struggled as the Airs got off to a hot start.

A well-judged Brent Matehaere timeout got the Nuggets back on track as Bardsley drained a couple of quick buckets, Lawrence started to drive to the hoop, and Darko-Kelly landed two three-pointers and forced a turnover.

It needed a balletic Flynn Cameron glide to the hoop to give the Airs a 25-24 lead at the first break.

They scored the first four field goals in the second quarter to jump ahead again, and while Darko-Kelly banged in another from range, Davison started heating up as Taranaki pushed the lead to 11.

A double technical on Lawrence and Tobias Cameron, who had jawed at each other after a collision left them on the ground, was followed by a Knox corner three.

The Nuggets scrambled to stay in touch as Taranaki led 52-46 at halftime.

For a short spell at the start of the third quarter, it seemed neither side wanted to score.

There were no fewer than five turnovers in the first 33sec. Outstanding defence or terrible playmaking? Call it a little bit of both.

Another Knox three cut the lead to one but Minnie then got hot for the Airs.

Still, the Nuggets refused to go away, and with star guard Ben Henshall struggling, Bardsley stepped in to make a couple of nice plays.

A booming three-pointer from Flynn Cameron nudged the Airs seven ahead, and McCarron made a crazy high floater on the buzzer to make it 76-66 after three quarters.

That was always going to be a tough lead for the Nuggets to wipe out.

Tough got tougher as the Airs scored the first two buckets of the final quarter, the second a brutal jam from Davison.

The Nuggets needed buckets, and quickly, but every time there was a flicker of a comeback, the Airs shut it down.

The NBL clash was preceded by an extraordinary performance in the Rapid League game.

The Nuggets won 40-27 —– but that scoreline barely told half the story.

Bardsley set a league record by pouring in 25 points in 15 minutes.

The Nuggets’ next NBL game is against the 12-3 Tuatara in Auckland on Wednesday night.

NBL

The scores

Taranaki Airs 101

Carlin Davison 26, Elijah Minnie 16

Otago Nuggets 88

Kimani Lawrence 29, Zaccheus Darko-Kelly 24

Quarter scores: 25-24, 52-46, 76-66.