Saturday, 29 December 2012

Lion Down at the Palace

Hopperational details
Date & Venue
Friday 28 December 2012 at the Crystal Palace Sports Centre
London Lions 88 Cheshire Phoenix 92
BBL Trophy (knockout cup competition)
Number 14 on the hoophopping list.  I called it courthopping until today, but like both clubs here, I have changed the name.
Pre-match preparation
This was an impulsive trip in an attempt to put a safe distance between me and an industrial supply of Quality Street and other health foods. Unfortunately it brought be closer to a hotdog stall. The sides have similar league records around the 50:50 mark so it should be a competitive game.
This match in one sentence
The Lions made too many unforced errors and Phoenix kept cool heads at the end of a strange game played in a rather muted atmosphere.
So what?
Phoenix go through and Lions are out.
The drama unfolds
There were only seven Phoenix players suited and booted for action, which did not bode well, and my heart sank when Lions took an early grip on the game, scoring 2 to 1 and opening a healthy lead.  Whether complacency set in, who knows, but Phoenix battled back to 22-22 and then took the lead with a three from Gabe Haskins.  One more Lions score kept the margin at one point at the end of what had turned out to be a high-scoring first quarter.  26-27 at the end of the first quarter

In the second, Phoenix pulled their lead out to eight at 29-37 and here is my scene-setter clip which has Lions’  Adrien Sturt scoring one of several personal and Lions threes, but Phoenix matched the scoring rate and the clip ends at 38-45.  Lions are in purple.

Another run of threes, however, including two more from Sturt, brought the Lions back level and we reached a beautifully symmetric score at the halfway point.  Sturt’s personal tally was now 22.  50-50 at the end of the second quarter

By the time I took my next clip, midway through the third, it was still too close to call at 56-56.

The period ended with the visitors holding a narrow two-point lead.  66-68 at the end of the third quarter

In the final quarter, Phoenix had the veteran Shaun Myers back on court.  They successfully defended two periods of 24s shotclock time and then Myers hit a three to give them a lead of 71-76.  They were able to hold the lead at somewhere in the five to seven point range as the time ticked away.  Here’s a clip, and by the end of it the score is 78-83.

The play became somewhat scrappy and tense and coaches began to utilise the timeouts.  Phoenix still held their 7-point lead at 78-85 with 2min31s on the clock.  The body language of the Lions and their coach increasingly showed frustration as plays were not executed and the unforced error count went up.  This clip takes us down to less than a minute to go, and Lions have got it back to a 4-point game.

Phoenix ran down the clock as much as allowed by the shotclock rules.  Chez Marks added a point from a freethrow so the margin was 83-88 as the clock showed 23 seconds of playing time.  Here’s another clip from this critical stage of the game.

Sturt’s three got the score to 88-89 with eleven seconds to go but Lions lost possession on a final critical play, and were then forced to foul to stop the clock again with 2.9 seconds remaining.  Chez Marks kept his nerve and sank both free throws to seal a morale-boosting win.  For Lions, Adrien Sturt led all scorers with 31 (and 9 rebounds) and #15 Tayo Ogedengbe (who turns out to be a friend of a friend of a friend I now see from Twitter!) had 20.  The bulk of the Phoenix points came from Jerome Gumbs with 24 and Myers with 23, but the latter's 13 rebounds were also a big factor in the game.  Final score 88-92
The programme

Something random
I continue to get the feeling that top-level basketball is struggling in this country at the moment and the clubs are not as secure as they were a few years back.  Cheshire have had two incarnations in the same season!  Earlier this year I dropped in to see them at the Northgate Arena one Sunday afternoon as Cheshire Jets.  A few weeks later they were under new management and ownership as Cheshire Phoenix, continuing with the fixture list.  Last season, Lions (as MK Lions) had moved to a new arena as plans for a new home alongside the football stadium melted away – but this also proved unsustainable and the franchise has decided to relocate to the Copper Box when it is released as an Olympic legacy venue.  They have become London Lions and so this Crystal Palace season is very much one of transition.  I’d enjoyed many hoops nights in Milton Keynes over the years – but this one had all the atmosphere of Pluto.  The fact that MK has lost a sports team to south London has caused some wry amusement amongst my football followership.
Hopping for Moorfields Update
Nothing to report – hoops don’t count for this purpose!
What Next?
Maybe, if there is a dry enough bit of England, groundhopping landmark #500 on the lifetime list on Saturday afternoon.  At the time of writing (11.57pm on Friday night) there are pitch inspections scheduled in most places I would be interested in, and I will again be using the randomness of Twitter to decide where, if anywhere, I will be going.

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