Tall Blacks 94
Five and a half miserable minutes have consigned the Tall Blacks to an opening defeat at the Basketball World Cup - and severely dented their hopes of making the second round.
Leading Brazil 56-50 midway through the third quarter of their biggest game in five years, things were looking up for the Tall Blacks. Their rapid pace was tiring the old Brazilian legs, Corey Webster had hit five three pointers in the previous quarter, and Brazil's players with NBA experience – all seven of them – were struggling to find purchase against the Tall Blacks' improved depth, missing 11 straight shots.
Then everything changed.
In the space of those 330 seconds, Brazil swung the entire game. From a 56-50 deficit, they charged into a 78-62 lead going into the final period – a 28-6 run that the Tall Blacks had no answer for as the South Americans claimed a 102-94 victory.
New Zealand's fast tempo which had proved so successful suddenly led to rash shots, while the small defensive lapses that had been present in the first half intensified as Brazil knocked down six threes, hitting 11 of 14 shots all the while the Tall Blacks saw shot after shot clang off iron.
39-year-old Alex Garcia – veteran of 10 NBA games 14 years ago – was the catalyst. Despite his ugly shooting form – firing off threes like he'd held the shooting button down for too long on NBA 2K – he started the run which then saw fellow veteran Leandro Barbosa (22 points) and the impressive Rafa Luz (15 points, six assists) take over to ensure the Tall Blacks couldn't respond.
Webster's five second-quarter triples proved to be the only threes he'd make, and while his solid offensive performance (19 points, six rebounds, six assists) was complemented by Isaac Fotu (17 points), Shea Ili (16 points, six assists) and Rob Loe (11 points, 10 rebounds), they could never quite climb out of their third-quarter hole.
They tried - Brazil's 16-point lead going into the final quarter was eventually cut in half, not a completely insignificant factor as New Zealand look to keep their impressive streak alive – being one of just four teams (USA, Spain and Argentina) to have made the second round in each of the last four World Cups.
To continue that run, they'll likely need to win both of their remaining games, but if results go their way to make qualifying with one win a possibility, they'd need a repeat of 2014, where they advanced thanks to the points differential tiebreaker.
Montenegro loom next on Tuesday night, an opponent that should be easier than Brazil, but in Nikola Vucevic possess a legitimate standout NBA big man – a threat that New Zealand have traditionally struggled with. The toughest test of the lot, Greece, featuring Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo and a slew of former NBA players, follow on Thursday.
Qualification for the second round may not be an impossible task, but it's definitely improbable - made so by those five and a half miserable minutes.