Surrey Scorchers 78-73 Bristol Flyers (16-14, 21-21, 18-19, 23-19)
Scorchers – Wang 21, Taylor 16, Jacdonmi 15; Flyers – King 21, Bell 12, Watson-Gayle 11
Manchester Giants 99-97 Newcastle Eagles (24-32, 32-23 15-17, 18-25)
Giants – Lewis 20, Fletcher 19, Williams and Green 16; Eagles – Hamlet 33, Defoe 20, Cohn 18
2023 tipped off with a brace of excellent BBL Championship games, which saw the Surrey Scorchers maintain an impressive New Year’s Day winning record against the Bristol Flyers, and the Manchester Giants survive a close, high-scoring contest at home versus the Newcastle Eagles.
While Surrey’s Padiet Wang and Bristol’s VJ King played each other to a draw, on 21 points each, the Scorchers’ Quincy Taylor and Boban Jacdonmi stepped up to secure their first home win of the year, and the season.
And in Manchester, despite a great 33 points from Newcastle’s Javion Hamlet, the Giants had a well balanced attack, with Nick Lewis’ hot shooting leading the way on 20.
Surrey Scorchers were 11-1 on New Year’s Day games going into their clash with the Bristol Flyers, and you felt the home crowd knew this. A sold out Surrey Sports Park was in fine voice, and cheered its team to a good win against one of the BBL’s best.
It was a worrying opening quarter for Scorchers’ fans, as the Flyers got ahead and threatened to open up a decent lead.
Bristol’s VJ King did some early damage. He got loose for a layup to open the scoring, thanks to a big rebound and pass ahead from Malcolm Delpeche.
King then returned the favour and found Delpeche on the block for a score. And a few possessions later, Delpeche followed King’s missed layup for a big put-back.
King kept up the pressure to score twice, but a 9-2 run by Surrey put the Scorchers up to close the opening frame.
Boban Jacdonmi came out of the break with some fire. He attacked the middle of the floor on the opening play. The well designed set saw him begin in the post, dribble out to the perimeter to fake a hand-off, then drive back inside for the layup.
On the next possession down, Jacdonmi set a pick and roll for Andrew Lawrence on the right side of the floor. The point guard attracted two defenders and found the big man cutting to the hoop for an open two.
Lawrence started having an impact on multiple plays throughout the second quarter. Forward Ryan Martin found him for a big three to put the Scorchers up five, then Lawrence found Padiet Wang for a dunk.
This unlocked Wang, who got into a groove for a step-back jumper, then got to the line with two minutes to go to sink two free throws, and Surrey entered the locker room up two.
Mike Miller heated up to start the third quarter and scored five straight points for the Flyers. He later hit a tough turnaround fadeaway to tie the game a 47 apiece.
Lawrence and Jacdonmi connected again on a layup for the big man, and Lawrence got open a few plays later for a three, off a Quincy Taylor assist, to go up 55-54 headed into the final frame.
This is where the home advantage was key. Surrey could smell victory and Jacdonmi led a 10-4 run towards it.
Confidence led to patience on offence. Quincy Taylor and Jacdonmi worked the pick and roll on the left side of the floor but nothing came, so the point guard retreated and found Martin with a cross-court pass. Wang cut hard to the hoop and Martin found his teammate for a beautiful layup that put Surrey up eight points.
With one minute to go, Lawrence used a hesitation dribble on the perimeter to confuse the typically great Bristol defence. This allowed Shakem Johnson to make himself available in the lane. A lofty pass over the top saw Johnson reach up high then compose himself for two points, which gave them enough of a winning gap to start the year off with a bang.
The opening quarter in Manchester became a duel of the point guards.
Manchester Giants’ Rahmon Fletcher hit a big three, but he did most of his damage in the same way Newcastle are familiar with from his days with the Eagles. He sliced through the defence and found four teammates for open shots for a 15-5 lead.
This included Anthony Roberson, who hit a big three to give him five points to open the game, along with five rebounds, and it looked like the home team were set to run away with it early.
On the other team, however, last week’s All-Star Five point guard David Cohn kept the Eagles close with three huge threes in the opening few minutes.
This helped Newcastle slow Manchester, and the pace of the game, to a speed they preferred and reeled off 21-4 run. Javion Hamlet held the ball for the final possession of the quarter, hitting a massive three to finish 32-24.
Manchester’s quick offensive pace puts up more shots than any other team in the BBL, but Newcastle used that medicine against them in the second quarter.
Good Eagles defence led to plenty of transition opportunities, which Hamlet and Jermel Kennedy made the most of to start the second quarter.
But the reason Giants stand tall over the competition in shot attempts is because of players like Roberson. Nick Lewis pulled up in transition but missed, and Roberson was one of the hustle players cutting to the hoop – he grabbed the rebound to go straight up for the put-back layup.
Later in the quarter, Fletcher picked up the ball on offence after a deflection. He got it to Lewis, and on the broken play, he found Roberson making a smart play beneath the basket.
Lewis then hit a big three going into the last two minutes in the half, and the Newcastle lead was reduced to four points.
He maintained this personal for another three, then got to the line to sink two free throws and the Giants had completely closed the gap.
A good isolation jump shot from Fletcher put Manchester ahead to close out the highest scoring first half of the season.
Donovan Johnson started the second half in the same way he did the first: chasing down offensive rebounds for his Newcastle Eagles. It didn’t end up with a bucket on this occasion, but he scored a big three to get on the scoreboard in the opening possessions of the second half.
Lewis also came out with confidence for the Giants, and from well outside the three-point line, he hit a three that pushed his own tally to 15 points.
The game had such a frenetic pace that each team needed to slow down in the third quarter. This meant isolation players were more important.
Javion Hamlet shook his defender to score a baseline jumper for Newcastle, then a few possessions later, Dirk Williams rose up for a big three with a hand in his face for Manchester.
Good defence by the Giants created a turnover, which meant Tahj Green was able to get open for a big dunk. This pushed the lead to eight points, which forced Eagles coach Marc Steutel to call a timeout.
Newcastle weren’t giving up easily, and they went to captain Darius Defoe with 40 seconds left in the third. He caught the ball at the top of the key, and handed it off to Hamlet before rolling through the lane. Hamlet kicked it to Ben Mockford on the wing, who fed it straight into Defoe as the Manchester defence tried to rotate, but the big man scored before it could happen.
Manchester still had the lead 81-72 going into the fourth.
Defoe then got a long two-point shot at the end of a broken play, and stole the ball down the other end before kicking it ahead to Hamlet, who was fouled and hit both free throws.
Hamlet and Defoe connected again, with a long two in the corner for the big man to reduce the gap to six with seven minutes to go.
Hamlet continued to do damage. He faked towards his left to take a screen from a teammate, but went right and got downhill for a tough contested layup to cut the deficit to two points.
It was tied by Kennedy, who slipped a screen to cut back door and hammered home a thunderous dunk off a great Defoe pass.
Fletcher wasn’t happy seeing his former team get back into the ball game. He duked and dodged defenders to get down the lane for a layup, then hit a duo of free throws on the next possession.
This put Manchester ahead, and his old teammate Defoe couldn’t stop the bleeding.
Despite the Eagles legends trading baskets for most of the game, the dagger came from Williams.
He got a switch and was being guarded by big man Hasahn French, so the guard dribbled back to clear a runway, and used his speed to attack the rim and get a layup to fall off the backboard.
Defoe managed to score in the dying seconds but there wasn’t enough time left to get any closer.
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