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Book Closes In Style

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June 30, 2007
Nelson Giants centre Ed Book & fans (ImageSport NZ)

Nelson Giants centre Ed Book & fans (ImageSport NZ)

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He took an age to complete one last circuit of his old stamping ground, the one that had finally provided him what he had pursued for 13 years – the Dominion Finance NBL championship.

Nelsonís Trafalgar Centre (aka The Hangar) contains perhaps the craziest and most dedicated fans in New Zealand basketball. There was only one thing they wanted to see more than their beloved Blue Chip Nelson Giants winning their third title in 13 years and this was it … Ed ìThe Big Easyî Book raising that trophy up for the first and last time in his career.

ìItís hard to describe how I feel right now,î he admitted, after inspiring the Giants to a 96-83 victory over Easy LPG Bay Hawks in the championship decider.

ìIíve chased this for so long and it has slipped away a couple of times. When you get near the end of a career, you start thinking you will never get this and then in the final year, having it happen Ö words canít describe it.î

Of course, this is not the first fairy tale ending weíve seen to a legendary career. Only last year, the Hawks gave veteran forward Willie Burton a title to send him on his way.

Unlike Burton, whose best days were way behind him, Book (36) still commanded a major role in his teamís tilt at the crown. He had performed strongly in Game One of the best-of-three finals series the previous night, scoring 18 points (6/12 FG, 6/8 FT) in 28 minutes as the Giants prevailed 76-67 in Napier.

So it was fitting that the 2.12m giant was able to drag his aging body back out on court just 24 hours later to play a poignant part in the rematch.

With just over six minutes to go, he hit a three-pointer that stretched Nelsonís lead to 13 points, surely beyond any comeback the Hawks could muster. With little over a minute remaining, he popped up on the baseline for a short jumper that would prove his last.

Seconds later, Book was subbed off to the tumultuous applause of his adoring supporters, celebrating a career that also saw him provide yeoman service to the national team during a purple patch in the sportís history

ìThis is it,î he confirmed. ìA lot of people didnít believe me.
ìLast year, I was toying with retirement, but it didnít seem right. My wife Lisa and I talked about it long and hard Ö this has taken a toll on us and we have three kids.

ìLife is busy and priorities change. I need to get my life back.î

The Hawks always faced an uphill battle to stay alive after losing at home. Their predicament took a turn for the worse when Aussie forward Andrew Rice returned across the ditch overnight to be with his ailing mother.

As it was last Sunday in the semis, when captain Paora Winitana sat out for religious reasons, they needed someone to play out of their skin to fill the void. The hero on that occasion was Arthur Trousdell and he replaced Rice in the starting line-up.

Nelsonís biggest obstacle seemed to be how they would physically respond to back-to-back outings. Book had limped gingerly to the sideline in the fourth quarter after hitting the floor hard and frontcourt running mate Mika Vukona also looked a little the worse for wear afterwards.

Newly crowned MVP Josh Pace got the game underway with a close range basket for Nelson, countered immediately by fellow American Kareem Johnsonís mid-range jumper.

But the home team was quickly into their work. Chris Daniel hit a three and then drove to the basket for a dunk to cap a run of eight unanswered points as the lead reached 10-2.
Timeout Hawks. Maybe they just needed a chance to acclimatize to the hostile home crowd.

But Giants point guard Mike Fitchett, who had shot 8/10 3pt in the semifinal against U Park It Waikato Pistons, found his stroke early for a pair of treys as the margin grew to nine.

Then he found the net again, only to draw a like response from Winitana. Hawks guard Aidan Daly began to probe the lane and visited the line for 3/4 FT, then Johnson tipped in a missed Everard Bartlett floater.

When Paul Henare struck from the arc, Nelsonís lead was just two as the first period ended.

Bartlett erased that deficit with a three after the restart and Winitana drove to the hoop to extend the margin. Book replied with a trey to tie it up again and American Jamil Terrell, who was the fourth import employed by Nelson coach Nenad Vucinic this season, added another from afar to put the hosts back in front.

Winitana hit a pair of freebies to snatch the initiative back, Pace slotted a trey to seize it back again.

No one, it seemed, could grab this one by the scruff of the neck and take control. Then, suddenly, Fitchett hit another three-pointer – his fourth – to cap a 12-point run that send Nelsonís advantage to 11 points. Vukona, who had indeed taken some time to warm up, also struck from distance.

The Hawks werenít dead yet, but when Book hit from the top of the key as the quarter ended, he gave his team an eight-point bulge (52-44) to take into the locker room.

Fitchett and Pace had 12 points apiece for the Giants, who shot 5/9 (55.6%) 3pt through the second term.

The visitors actually enjoyed an edge in the possession stakes, largely nullifying the dominance of Vukona around the boards the previous night and forcing their opponents into seven turnovers. They just could not convert (40% FG, 44.4% 3pt) as effectively against the staunch Nelson defence, although Winitana did lead all scorers with 13 points.

Also, Johnsonís waywardness from the charity stripe (0/4 FT) was not helping and he compounded this with another miss early in the third term.

But Trousdell made consecutive baskets and Winitana hit a trey to get the visitors back within four. They desperately needed to stamp some authority on this period if they were to have any hope of victory and Winitana was threatening to lead them back.

Enter Vukona, who grabbed an offensive rebound, stuck in back, then converted the ìand oneî. Pace had a three to stretch the lead back out to double figures.

The American was starting to surge, scoring 11 points in the quarter and driving the Giants to a 10-2 tear at right about the stage they took charge of Game One.

Bartlett banked in a mid-ranger and Winitana floated in a fadeaway from the top of the key to have the Hawks within nine (63-72) with 10 minutes remaining.

Winitana soon had two more back, but a pair of treys from Terrell surely broke the championsí hearts.

ìNo one thought Jamil could make those shots,î said Book. ìHe had never hit a three in his career until he came to Nelson.

ìHis coaches had never let him shot from there, but we told him he had to take them if he was open.î

When Book struck from long distance with six minutes on the clock, his first celebrations began.

With 2m 29s on the clock, Henare collected his fifth foul and reacted badly, drawing a technical foul on the way to the bench.

ìThe Hawks are a great team and we knew they would make their runs,î said Book. ìWe had to stop them.

ìWhen Pauli picked up that ëTí, everything fell apart for them and there was no way back for them.î

Pace led all scorers with 25 points (11/17 FG, 2/3 3pt, 1/4 FT), eight rebounds and seven assists, while Vukona matched his ìdouble doubleî from Game One with 19 points/10 rebounds and Fitchett shot 5/9 3pt in his 18 points.

The Giants were a blistering 14/28 (50%) 3pt and simply out-executed (22 team assists) their opponents.

Winitana had 24 points (9/20 FG, 2/8 3pt, 4/4 FT) for the Hawks.

ìWeíve had our ups and down this season,î said Book. ìBut Iím very pleased for the boys Ö weíve worked very hard for this.

ìWhat a way to go out.î

Dominion Finance NBL Finals (Game Two)
Friday, June 29

Blue Chip Nelson Giants 96 (Josh Pace 25, Mika Vukona 19, Mike Fitchett 16, Jamil Terrell 14, Ed Book 14) Easy LPG Bay Hawks 83 (Paora Winitana 24, Everard Bartlett 20, Kareem Johnson 15, Arthur Trousdell 13)
Quarter 25-23
Halftime 52-44 (27-21)
Threequarter 72-63 (20-19)
Fulltime 96-83 (24-20)