The Platinum Homes Harbour Breeze had to hold off a resolute Kāpura Capital Swish in the first Sal’s NBL 18IN18 semi-final at Pulman Arena on Friday before closing out a 77-64 win.
The Breeze led 44-23 at halftime and appeared to be on course for a comfortable victory - Letava Whippy had other ideas. The Swish captain put up an incredible line of 17 points, 12 rebounds, six assists and five steals as her team stormed back into the contest after the interval.
The Swish enjoyed a terrific start to the second-half with a 10-0 run and when Sariah Penese dropped a three the Swish were within nine points (49-40) and Breeze Head Coach Jody Cameron needed a timeout, her team outscored 17-5 in five minutes.
Olivia Bell made a much-needed score for the Breeze but Paris Lokotui (14 points) made a corner three and the Swish had all the momentum despite trailing 55-44 with ten minutes to play.
Bell was the scorer again on the re-start, both teams having to make adjustments with starting forwards Lokotui and Ash Kelman-Poto (16 points) seated with foul issues.
Brooke Blair joined Kelman-Poto on the bench with four fouls, but her replacement Tiarna Clarke landed a deep three to stretch the Breeze lead to 62-46 with 6:30 to play.
Grace Vaofusi (11 points) made a triple, but Keeley Tini (15 points) sunk a brace of them – Breeze 70-53 ahead with 4:30 to play.
Kelman-Poto returned, but her stay was brief, the Breeze captain fouling out with four minutes to play. The Swish effort, led by the tireless Whippy, was exceptional, but the Breeze weathered the storm to deservedly book a spot in Sunday’s Grand-Final.
Named Sal’s NBL 18IN18 MVP before the game commenced, Brooke Blair made an early score, but Vaofusi made a pair of nice baskets much to the delight of the travelling Swish fans.
Vaofusi was a force at the defensive end too, twice blocking Ella Fotu (16 points), although the Tall Fern did have a pair of baskets to her name as the Breeze forged a 15-9 lead.
The Breeze finished the quarter with a 10-2 salvo to lead 27-13 at the first break. Zara Jillings (12 points) opened the second-quarter proceedings with a long three to add to the Breeze lead.
18IN18 All-Star Five recipients Whippy and Kelman-Poto exchanged scores, Breeze 32-17 to the good four minutes into the frame.
Kelman-Poto was the first player into double figures with the Swish further inconvenienced when Lokotui was forced off the court with what appeared to be a lower-back injury.
The Breeze's speed in transition was troubling the Swish – Jillings and Fotu stretching the advantage beyond twenty points.
Whippy and Lilly Taulelei reduced the arears in the closing seconds of the half, but the Swish had a great deal to do at the interval trailing 44-23.
What followed was a stirring Swish comeback, but they had left themselves too much to do after a disappointing first half.
The second Sal’s NBL 18IN18 semi-final will take place on Saturday when Waikato Wizards take on Firebrand Otago Gold Rush.
Breeze 77 – Kelman-Poto 16p/7r, Tini 15p, Fotu 12p/6a, Jillings 12p/4s
Swish 64 – Whippy 17p/12r/6a/5s, Lokotui 14p/7r, Vaofusi 11p, Selby-Rickit 8p