Wellington Saints (14-5) v James Blond Supercity Rangers (10-9)
When: Tonight, 7pm tipoff
Where: ILT Stadium, Invercargill
Referees - Tim Brown, Dallas Pickering, Melony Wealleans
Live Stream via NZ Herald
Live Stats Link
Both the Wellington Saints and James Blond Supercity Rangers will meet for the first time in an NBL Playoff game
This will be Wellington’s 16th Grand Final appearance, and have a chance to win their 9th NBL title. The Rangers make their first Grand Final appearance, improving on the best previous finish of last year when they were eliminated by the Sharks in the semi-finals.
Jeff Green is in his second season as Head Coach for the Rangers, and is now only one game away from tying the record of five titles as a coach with former Tall Black coaching great Tab Baldwin.
Green has had a fierce rivalry with the Saints and will be coaching against them for the fourth time in a Grand Final, winning two (1991 Hutt Valley Lakers & Waikato Titans 2001) and losing the 2003 Final in overtime with Waikato.
Kevin Braswell is in his first year as a head coach, but has already made his mark with the franchise taking them to 13-5 this season. Although this is his rookie year he knows what it takes to win with two titles as a player with Southland (2013 & 2015).
Both teams are loaded with championship experience, particularly the Rangers, who have players such as Lindsay Tait who will be going for his eighth title, last winning one for the Saints in 2014.
Tait joins Corey Wester, Dillon Boucher and Eric Devendorf, who have all had stints with the Wellington franchise.
Webster won the 2014 MVP award with the Saints in the championship over the Hawks, and will be gunning for his third overall. Webster is coming into form, averaging 32.3 points in his last three games.
Battle of the point guards Tait and Shea Ili will play a pivotal role in the result. Ili, a former Ranger, finished second in the league is assists (5.6) while Tait was third (5.4).
Another intriguing match-up will be between power forwards and former NZ Breakers team mates Tai Wesley and Mika Vukona. There should be no love lost between the two after earlier in the season, they were both suspended for one game after a scuffle.
Although Vukona is not a big stat sheet stuffer, the intangibles that he brings are invaluable and will make Wesley, who scored 20 last night will have to work for every basket.
Wesley will be making a second straight grand final appearance after winning for the Sharks last year, while Vukona will be aiming for his second title overall, last winning one for the Nelson Giants in 2007.
The one question mark coming into the Final for the Rangers will be the health of the league leading scorer Eric Devendorf who suffered a foot injury against the Rams last night. Devendorf has enjoyed playing against his former team, averaging nearly 28 points per game.
Wellingtons leading scorer and rebounder is last year’s MVP Torrey Craig, who is averaging a double-double of 21 points and 10 rebounds. In the last meeting against the Rangers Craig tallied 30 points, nine rebounds and seven assists.
NBL and Tall Black legend Dillon Boucher will be making his 36th playoff appearance and a chance to win title number nine, last winning one with the Auckland in 2012.
Boucher began is NBL career back in 1994 and will be playing his 391th game overall.
Last night both teams got valuable production from their American centres, Terrence Roberts (Rangers) who had 25 points against the Rams, and Bryan Davis (Saints) who had 13 off the bench versus the Sharks.
Although the Rangers have not beaten the Saints this season, the series between the two have been quite even over the past few seasons with both teams winning four apiece in the last eight played.
This year both teams have been the best scorers in the competition, the Rangers leading the league at nearly 96 per game and the Saints are second (94). In the three games this season the combined points scored per game between the two is 201, but expect the final score to be lower tonight.
2016 NBL Media Guide. pdf