Saturday, 10 December 2011

Lions Maul Wildcats

Hopperational details
Date & Venue
Friday 10 December 2012 at the Basketball Arena, Milton Keynes.
Milton Keynes Lions 87 Durham Wildcats 74
The first time that these two clubs have ever met.
British Basketball League Championship
A second successive MK-based tangent for this blog, but whilst I was a total hockey virgin, I do have previous with the BBL but not in the last five years or so.  The Yapplets and I were fairly frequent visitors to the Lions, Leopards (then in Essex) and Tigers (then in the Thames Valley) of the time.  Gotta love the big cats.  However, this is the first time I have seen the Lions at their new venue.  The BBL is the highest level of club basketball in the UK and the majority of the starting fives are from overseas and/or have gained citizenship rights over their playing careers.
This match in one sentence
Milton Keynes woke up in the second quarter and took control with a crowd-pleasing performance from Demarius Bolds including an outrageous three-pointer at the end of the third.
So what?
There are 11 teams in the league – Lions now have a 3-4 win-lose record and are one of several teams level in mid-table.  Wildcats are the newcomers to this level this season and with a 1-7 record have yet to find their feet.  Newcastle Eagles look to be in charge with an 8-0 record this morning.
Something random
I can’t quite work out why basketball isn’t doing better in this country.  It’s probably because TV interest has waxed and waned, and all down to money.  MK has been one of the few stable franchises in recent years.  The Lions club still has many of the same non-playing faces that I recognised from five years ago, but it has managed to move on.  The new venue is better than the old one, and the club’s links with schools look to be exemplary.  The community side of a basketball club’s operation seem to be a much higher percentage of their activity than say, a football club.  Their crowds are up, with a high proportion of youngsters in attendance.

Club owner Vince Macaulay exudes basketball.  He has been league chairman and club coach over the years and now, I see, is co-commentator and general event animateur as the clips will confirm.

When I last saw the Lions, they were playing solid basketball based on defence under the master tutelage of BBL legend Nigel Lloyd.  The 2011-12 lions are coached by Mike New and it looked to be a more athletic higher-tempo style.  I’m no expert in this game – I understand the rules on paper, but when the refs make the calls I have hardly ever spotted the fouls myself.  For a supposedly non-contact sport, there is a great deal of contact!

Finally, old habits and all that, a mention for “Majestix”, a dance group from Icknield High School who made a brief appearance at half-time.  Great performance.
The drama unfolds
Lions got the ball from the tip-off but Wildcats intercepted a lazy pass and broke for the first basket of the evening.  That set the tone for the first quarter.  Wildcats led 21-7 at one stage and coach New used an early time-out to reset the team.  Demarius Bolds showed a few signs of what was to come.  Here’s the last action of the quarter.  16-27

The Lions were altogether more efficient and effective in the second quarter and amassed 30 points.  The clip, again the closing stages, shows the moment they took the lead in the game for the first time.  Three of the four-point margin came from an on-buzzer foul.  (A player gets three free throws worth a point each if fouled in the act of shooting.)  The chances of that long-range shot going in are low (but see below) so it seemed at the time a needless three points to give to Bolds.  46-42

The third quarter was 20-17 to Lions who therefore extended their lead to seven points.  The quarter ended with the most outrageous three-pointers I have ever witnessed live.  Watch this one if you watch nothing else!  66-59

In the fourth quarter, Wildcats narrowed the gap to six for a short while but in the end New was able to send on the support players for some court time as they saw out the game comfortably.  It was never dull because Bolds stayed on until the last minute, when he finally sat down with 37pts against his name.  Here are the closing moments.  Final Score 87-74

This pic of the final scoreboard shows the number of fouls committed by each player as a light next to their squad number.  This is important because a player is not allowed to continue in the match if they reach five.  The 4 is for the 4th quarter and the 5 and 6 at the bottom were the number of fouls committed by each team in the quarter – this affects whether a foul automatically gives a free throw to the opponents (i.e. when it reaches five). The match score is self-explanatory and I am 99% certain that the other lights next to the timer are for counting the timeouts called.  One other piece of kit not shown is the shot clock – in this league teams have 24 seconds to get a shot in the air or they surrender possession.  With rebounds, steals, assists and such-like, this is another stat-rich game for those so inclined.

Bolds nails a free throw
Demarius Bolds by a street but credit to Daniel Northern for 15 rebounds in the match.  For the Wildcats, Mike Capocci top-scored with 22pts and was supported by a good all-round performance from Ralph Bucci.
A snippet from the programme
From Mike New’s notes:
“(The Wildcats’) slow and controlled style of play is in contrast to our open court high-tempo style of basketball and so we must be aware of the game being played too slow for our liking.”
… and so the Lions found themselves 9pts down at the end of the first quarter to the faster and more mobile team at that stage.
What I learned today
I can safely recommend an evening of top-flight basketball as a fast-and-furious, loud and brash, fun family-friendly experience.  If nothing else, standing next to the players at the end of the game (such as MK's 6'11" Adrian Sturt) is always rather entertaining if you are 5'10" like me.  I’ll certainly be going back to the game from time to time.
What Next?
Back to footy groundhopping this afternoon!  Unfinished business in the Middlesex League ... I will be watching Willesden Constantine at Kodak (Harrow) which was a team selected by Facebook friend Rob Summerfield but thwarted virally up to now.  Seriously tempted by some ice hockey at Slough to follow!

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