BBL Play-Off, semi-final (1st leg)
Bristol Flyers 77-84 Leicester Riders (11-26, 28-41, 53-64)
(Flyers: King, 23; Miller, 13; Bell III, 12 – Riders: MacKenzie, 14; Jackson, 11; Menzies/Walshe/Nelson-Henry/Whelan, 10)
A big win for the Riders at a venue where Bristol have only tasted defeat three times this season. However, Rob Paternsotro’s men will be a little disappointed, having led by as many as 26 points only to be pegged back in the second half.
As a result, it leaves the tie competitive heading into Sunday’s second leg at the Morningside Arena, but the Riders will have a vital lead heading to their home court.
Kimbal MacKenzie led the winners with 14 points with Zach Jackson adding 11 and four players on 10 in Evan Walshe, Aaron Menzies, Darien Nelson-Henry and Patrick Whelan.
VJ King had a game-high 23 points for the Flyers with Mike Miller chipping in with 13, which included going 3/4 from deep.
On paper, this was a battle between two evenly matched sides, statistically, but in the opening stages, it was the Riders who came out the brighter as they executed their offence whereas Bristol struggled to get theirs going.
A mini 7-1 run from the visitors, highlighted by a dunk from Menzies gave Leicester a 15-8 lead, before King ended the spell with a three-pointer.
However, an 11-0 finish to the first, capped with a score from Menzies on the buzzer handed the Riders a deserved 26-11 cushion.
Leicester’s run continued into the second quarter, as a further 8-0 spurt – a 19-0 run all-together – stretched the advantage to 34-11 leaving the semi-final in danger of being out of the Flyers’ reach even at this early stage.
Thomas Bell III finally got the hosts off the mark in the fourth minute of the second, as he and King attempted to claw Bristol back into the tie, but Leicester were relentless and on form, a Carrington Love lay-up handed his side a 25-point (41-16) lead.
From there, the home side, who were out of sorts and struggling up until this point started to get going, as a 12-0 run to end of the half narrowed the gap to 41-28.
Still down double-digits, but leaving the home fans with a little more hope than in the early stages of the second, Bristol looked to have caught a second wind and a jumper from Malcolm Delpeche kept things promising.
A score inside from Nelson-Henry and a triple from Jackson in quick succession for Leicester was just what they needed to grow their lead to 46-30 with less than two minutes of the third played.
Brandon Mahan did hit a three for the Flyers to reduce the deficit to 54-44, midway through the quarter and despite the visitors hanging on to their double-digit cushion for the majority, Bristol were eager to edge closer.
A three with a minute left from King finally brought his side to within single digits but Leicester fought back to lead 74-64 heading into the final ten.
The Flyers threatened and once again, narrowed the first leg to single digits on a couple of occasions, but with 2:41 left, Mackenzie drilled a three from the wing to put Leicester 80-67 to the good.
But Bristol chipped away in the closing stages to keep the score respectable going into the second leg on Sunday.