It was a frustrating day to be a New Zealand basketball fan on Saturday. After getting up in the early hours of the morning to watch their team blow a 12-point fourth-quarter lead in their FIBA World Cup opener, they then stayed up late at night to see them fall 76-63 to the Domincan Republic.
Perhaps it was a hangover from their close defeat to Turkey. They looked lethargic in everything they did, other than a pre-game haka, which they did with tremendous passion. Indeed, it is first time a New Zealand sports team has appeared to use up all of their energy in the haka.
They missed too many layups and gave up too many second-chance opportunities. For a long period in the second quarter they could not buy a basket, playing their bench for a long stretch in which they so obviously lacked scoring.
Despite this they held a two-point lead after the first quarter and it should have been more. They missed a handful of layups in this time, which allowed the Dominican Republic to stay in the game. Had the Tall Blacks been able to bury their opponents here, it could have been a different story, knocking the confidence out of the Dominican challenge early.
But they did not.
Only Thomas Abercrombie really threatened offensively and he was truly outstanding throughout. Not only did he show his athleticism by taking the ball well to the hoop, but he also displayed his ever-improving shooting game from the outside. He would finish with 22 of his team's 63 points.
As brilliant as he was, he did not have enough help. For a second game in a row Kirk Penney struggled to find his range, shooting just 3-of-10 from three-point range. Despite knocking in a few second-half shots to finish with 15 points, he was well below his usual high standards.
Likewise Corey Webster did not fire, putting up a series of speculative shots, particularly in the second quarter when he was called upon as the primary scorer.
You have to question some of the rotations used by coach Nenad Vucinic. After playing his starters for a long period in the first quarter, he then played a second-unit which simply contained too many role players. During this period New Zealand struggled to score and was where the game really started to slip away.
Isaac Fotu was not used during this time, either, which seemed puzzling. When he was finally inserted he looked good, defending well in the low-post.
Once the starters were reinstated, they began to claw their way back and even tied it up, before letting the game slip away once again.
Other than Abercrombie, Tai Webster and Mika Vukona were the best of the New Zealanders. Both hustled well, while Vukona began to put his shots in after a shaky start.
Their front line struggled down low, though, finding it hard to score, which forced New Zealand to look to their shooters for the bulk of their points.
For the Dominican Republic Francesco Garcia was the best on show. Offensively he was outstanding, finishing with a game-high 29 points, shooting well from deep and getting to the hoop with ease.
New Zealand now face a tough task if they are to progress to the next round. This was a game they would have been expecting themselves to win and had they played like they did in the first game they would have won.
Ukraine and Finland are both beatable opponents, as long as they bring the intensity they brought against Turkey. The USA will be a different story, though, and unfortunately, they may very well have to beat them if they are to advance.
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