Northants Tauras produced a solid team game plan to push 6 players into double digit scoring and find a way past a resilient Swindon Shock side 96-91. Leading by as many as 10 points in the final quarter, Swindon refused to go quietly and found a way to get the lead down to 3 with less than a minute to go. That was as good as it would get though, unable to find the telling basket and Northants held on.
Swindon's Spencer Wells was a consistent thorn in the side of the D4 Midlands winners and finished with an impressive 38 points on an 18/24 shooting performance. Unfortunately for the Shock, when Wells wasn't able to produce the offence tended to slow with only 2 of players making it into double figures.
In a game with multiple technical fouls, the contest was played in good spirits with the occasion and pressure being the telling factor in tempers boiling over. Northants were the ones to keep their heads in the end though and are rewarded by being crowned the National League Division 4 Playoff Champions.
The game started fast with both teams seeming happy to play at a high tempo in the early stages. Buckets by Maziliauskas and Pakalniskis were counted by baskets from Wilburn and Wells as both teams tried to grab the upper hand. In the end, it was Northants that held a narrow lead, up 29-24 after 1.
The 2nd period was a much more even affair but that was mainly down to Wells who dropped 12 in the quarter to keep his side afloat. With Northants able to share the load on offence, their lead did reach 7 with 3 minutes to go before Swindon fought back to trail by 5 at the half.
As it was to be expected from 2 teams that won their respective divisions in D4 this season, both these sides played some excellent basketball after the break. With time beginning to tick down, the pressure began to show as Northants picked up a technical foul in a passionate 3rd quarter. That was a sign of things to come as both teams picked up T’s before the game was out. Mid-way through the 3rd the Northants lead finally reached double digits but credit to the Shock as they once again found a way to battle back. Pulling to within 4 to end the period, the South West champions were still trailing going into the last but momentum was clearly on their side.
With Maziliauskas continuing to fire, he and Valdas Obrikas managed to not only slow Swindon in the 4th but push the Tauras lead back up to double digits. With 7 minutes to go, it seemed like that might be too much to ask from Swindon but they still had something in the tank as the started to heat up down the stretch. A couple of Matt North free throws were added to by a jumper from Wells and with 5 minutes to go it was a 1 basket game at 85-82.
This time it was Northants' turn to go on the offensive and they forged ahead, turning the screw to push home their advantage with 4 minutes to go. With the difference hovering above the 5-point mark, things seemed bleak for the Shock but with 23 seconds left, North popped up once again to nail a huge shot from down town and make it a 1 score game once more. Northants held their nerve from the line though and with time on their side, they stayed in front on for a historic win.
Deividas Butkevicius claimed MVP honours after an impressive 14-point, 10 rebound double-double for his team. Shooting 50% from the floor on a 7/14 afternoon, the Lituanian was in impressive form the Northants outfit.
All images courtesy of Mansoor Ahmed/AhmedPhotos