Sunday, 22 January 2012

Lions Use Their Escape Claws at Leicester

Hopperational details
Date & Venue
Saturday 21 January 2012 at the John Sandford Sports Centre, Leicester
Leicester Riders 75 Milton Keynes Lions 77
British Basketball League
I am here because of its proximity to my earlier hop to Gresley, and I reckon this is the 10th venue on my lifetime courthopping list.  For historical reasons, Lions are the BBL team that I follow more than any other.
This match in one sentence
Riders will be rueing their sluggish start, otherwise Lions would not have had chance for the penultimate play that took the points in front of a sellout crowd.
So what?
This was only the second defeat of the season for the home side.  They are 3rd on 8-2 while the Lions are in mid-table with a 6-7 record.
The drama unfolds
In the words of a Riders supporter during the first period, “We’re getting killed here.  This will be a cricket score.”  Both teams have signed veterans to steady their ships recently – first appearances for Robert Youngblood for MK and Yorick Williams for Riders.  Both are well known to BBL watchers.  Youngblood’s first points were a slam-dunk that got the Lions fans to their feet.  Demarius Bolds and Howard Crawford were again very solid, and Nuno Pedroso looked comfortable as the visitors went to a nineteen point at the end of the first quarter.  This is almost unheard of, and this clip has the closing minutes.  Lions are in yellow.  10-29 at the end of Q1

Lions got into foul trouble in the second, rapidly running up a 0-5 foul count with 6m30 left and giving Riders lots of opportunities from the free-throw line, as well as slowing the game down.  A personal foul was called against an incensed Lions’ Bolds, always the centre of attention and leading to a few minutes on the bench and a few wise words from the assistant coach in his ear.  Riders gradually reeled the Lions in and the first half finished on a ten-point margin, down from sixteen only two minutes earlier.  The clip again has the closing moments.  35-45 at the end of Q2

My third clip came earlier in the period, finishing with 6 minutes to go and the score at 42-51, still a nine-point margin after an even phase of the game.  Lions called a timeout with 3m50 to go and the score at 48-53 as the tide was definitely turning.  Riders got as close as two before Bolds seized a rebound and then drove the whole length of the court for two, and Pedroso scored just before the buzzer to make the margin six points.  Nevertheless, Lions were looking nervous and Riders were looking confident.  Rob Paternostro, the Riders coach (whom I last saw being animated and passionate for Birmingham Bullets a few years ago) was, er, animated and passionate again.  56-63 at the end of Q3

MK slowed the play much more than I have seen them do at home this season.  One pass inside from Youngblood to Crawford was faster than anything seen all evening and got gasps of appreciation.  With eight minutes to go, it was 60-67.  Lions had another timeout at 66-70 with seven on the clock, and there was no score for another minute.  However, Riders’ execution was better and they got to within one score again with a full five minutes left, at 68-71.  Here’s a fourth-quarter clip.

Lions still led by four at the three-minute mark but the final clip tells the story of an astonishing last minute.  The first score in the clip is a steal leading to a drive and two by Cameron Rundles, and so Riders took the lead for the first time in the game at 75-74.  The final score shows the ball being worked to the right for Adrien Sturt to drop in a three, as calm as you like, leaving time for only one play which the Lions were able to repel.  One of the best climaxes to a game that I have seen.  You were fortunate, Lions, but I guess you’ll take the road win.  Final score 75-77

Despite that closing three from Adrien Sturt, I have to choose Daniel Northern of MK Lions.  Not only 16 points, but also 18 rebounds.
A snippet from the programme
Flinder Boyd explains his unexpected departure from Riders in a letter to the fans …

“I wanted to thank you for welcoming me back for my second stint in Leicester.  I’m going to miss being a part of the club, but my departure isn’t basketball-related, it’s for personal reasons.”

Well, that’s cleared that up, then.
What I learned today
Driving in Leicester when you don’t quite know where you are going could officially be described as “interesting”.  I still refuse to have a satnav.  It’s much more social to have other drivers shouting helpful advice.
What Next?
Not sure, watch @GrahamYapp on Twitter for details, but definitely thinking about Three Bridges v Gresley on Saturday next in Sussex for an FA Vase replay.

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