Cheshire Phoenix 103 – 99 Manchester Giants (32-19, 30-20, 15-23, 26-37)
(Phoenix – Neighbour 21, Austin 20, Teague 18; Giants – Williams 32, Green 24, Roberson 14)
London Lions 87 – 63 Plymouth City Patriots (25-14, 22-9, 20-24, 20-16)
(Lions – Nelson 19, Koufos 16, Komagum/Kaboza 9; Patriots – Williams 26, Dusha 13, Brandon 6)
Leicester Riders 77 – 72 Surrey Scorchers (25-21, 14-24, 16-8, 22-19)
(Riders – Loving 22, Jackson 20, Mackenzie 12; Scorchers – Wang 24, Taylor 18, Jacdonmi 12)
In tonight’s early tip-off, Cheshire Phoenix held on to what proved to be a nervy win in the North-West derby (103-99) in front of a sell-out crowd, despite a near-perfect comeback by the Manchester Giants.
Will Neighbour led the Phoenix with 21 points – 19 of which were in the first half – followed by Larry Austin with 20 points, five rebounds and five assists.
Dirk Williams and Tajh Green’s incredible performances with 32 and 24 points, respectively, were not enough for the Giants.
Cheshire started the game red-hot, putting their opponents on the back foot straight from the tip, rushing ahead to a double-digit lead (15-4), after less than four minutes of action, when Marcus Evans drained a long-range two.
Despite the fact that the Phoenix were in action last night (29 December), defeating the B. Braun Sheffield Sharks away from home, their game plan seemed to revolve around an up-tempo game.
With that in mind, the home side played aggressive defence and managed to steal the ball on a number of occasions, leading to some easy baskets in transition, just like when Michael Ochereobia picked the pocket of Rahmon Fletcher, before Austin rushed down the court for the lay-up, giving his team their largest lead of the game up to that point (21-9).
That lead fluctuated until the end of the first quarter, when Maceo Jack pulled up following a deadly jab-step and drained the long-range buzzer beating two-pointer to close out the first 10 minutes with a 13-point lead for Cheshire (32-19).
The second period was much of the same, with the Phoenix continuing their excellent offensive display, leading by as many as 16 points (37-21), after Evans changed hands in the air and dished it to Tahjai Teague for the easy lay-up.
A 5-0 run by Manchester gave the away side a glimmer of hope that the momentum could be shifting, but that’s when Neighbour stepped up for Cheshire and exploded with 10 consecutive points – including two triples – to give his team their largest lead of the game (55-34), with just over three minutes left to play until half-time.
The 32-year-old big man was the star of the first half, scoring 19 points, in just 12 minutes of action, with 3/4 from behind the three-point line.
The Phoenix weren’t done there, however, with Lloyd Daniels closing out the half with a triple – his side’s sixth of the half – sending the two teams to the locker rooms with a 23-point difference (62-39).
The third quarter saw Cheshire reach their highest lead of the game, after Neighbour stole the ball and dished it to Teague with just a couple of minutes played, allowing his team to go up by 27 (68-41).
The Giants weren’t going to roll over, however, and their fight back started midway through the third period, by going on a 6-0 run and bringing the gap down to 16 (72-56).
The away side managed to bring the deficit down even further, this time to 15 points (77-62), going into the final 10 minutes after the game’s top scorer, Williams, drained a three-pointer – which reduced the gap to its smallest since early in the second.
The fourth quarter was the highest scoring of the game, with a combined total of 63 points.
Despite the Phoenix being the team that started the period stronger, with Anderson and Teague both scoring from beyond the arc to put their side up by 19 points (85-66), Manchester showed incredible heart and managed to fight back, even closing the gap to as little as three points.
It all started with a 9-0 run, capped off by a lay-up from Williams, bringing the deficit down to 11 points (87-76), with less than five minutes left to play.
An and-one play by Austin gave Cheshire a 14-point lead and some breathing room (90-76).
But the Giants refused to give up, with a Williams triple bringing the lead down to single digits for the first time since the opening quarter.
Williams hit nothing but net on a long-range two, before Nick Lewis stole the ball and Fletcher hit a three-pointer, cutting the margin down to five points (95-90) with just over 30 seconds left in the ball game.
Manchester decided to start fouling, sending Cheshire to the line in order to stop the clock.
Despite the Phoenix hitting their free throws, the Giants were breathing down their necks after some outrageous threes by Green and Williams, which turned what seemed to be a very comfortable evening for the home side in the first half, into a one possession game (101-98) with three seconds left.
Austin hit one of his two free throws and Anderson fouled Williams, sending him to the line in order to prevent Manchester from scoring a three.
Williams made the first and with the difference three points (102-99), he tried to do a Luka Dončić impersonation, and purposefully miss the second in order to give his team the opportunity to get the offensive rebound and have a shot at forcing overtime.
Unfortunately, for the away side, Anderson got the defensive board and sealed the win for Cheshire, moving them to a 9-9 record, while Manchester dropped to 6-7.
Marc Loving led the Riders with 22 points and seven rebounds, followed by Zach Jackson with 20 points and four rebounds.
Padiet Wang’s heroics were not enough for the Scorchers, despite his 24 points and six rebounds.
The match started very evenly, with both teams being very effective on the offensive end.
A 5-0 run by Leicester – a three-pointer by Jackson and a dunk by Darien Nelson-Henry – was followed by an 8-2 run by Surrey, finished by Wang’s and-one play, putting his team up 7-8.
The Riders re-took the lead and went up by as many as eight points when Loving drained a three-pointer with just over a minute to play in the first period.
Andrew Lawrence and Wang then teamed up for arguably the highlight of the first half, when the GB international threw it up for his teammate, who had to adjust his body in mid-air to lay it in, closing the gap to six points (25-19).
A quick 4-0 run by the Scorchers at the end of the first, followed by a 6-0 run to start the second, saw the away side take the lead (25-27), after Lawrence made a tough and-one play.
Derryck Thornton eventually put an end to that run, after turning on the engines and going coast-to-coast for the lay-up, to tie the game at 27 apiece, with just under eight minutes left until half time.
Another large scoring run by Surrey saw them time take a nine-point lead (27-36), after Quincy Taylor nailed the shot from behind the three-point line, off the assist from Lawrence.
A 4-0 run by the Riders, closed the gap to five points (31-36) and forced Coach Gardner into a time-out.
Whatever he told his players clearly worked, as they managed to increase their lead to 10 points (31-41) in just 60 seconds after his time-out.
Another 4-0 run by Leicester forced the Surrey coach into another time-out, in order to stop the home side from gaining any momentum, with the two teams eventually going to the locker rooms with just a six-point difference (39-45), after Kimbal Mackenzie’s buzzer beating jump shot.
The third quarter started in a nervier fashion and didn’t produce the free-flowing basketball we had seen in the first half, with defences firmly on top.
Leicester’s exemplary D restricted their opponents to just eight points in the entire quarter.
That, coupled with a couple of scoring runs from the home side, saw them take their first lead since early in the second quarter. This was thanks to Patrick Whelan, who made both his free throws with just under a minute left until the end of the third.
The fourth period was a very different affair, with both sides back to their best offensively, similar to the first half.
The two teams – who were evenly matched throughout the game – traded buckets back and forth in the first couple of minutes, before Jackson’s and-one play gave Leicester a five-point cushion (64-59).
The American guard – who finished with 20 points – increased the Riders’ lead to seven (66-59), when he threw up a Hail Mary as he was falling, which managed to drop with less than seven minutes to go.
Just when Lawrence seemed to have given the Scorchers some hope with a corner triple, to close the gap to four (66-62), a 5-0 run by Loving saw Leicester break away again 71-64.
Surrey didn’t give up, and even had a chance to tie the game with two-and-a-half minutes left, when Ryan Martin pulled up from behind the arc, but his shot failed to drop and the score remained 71-68.
Mackenzie then punished the away side with a jump-shot on the very next play, giving his team some breathing room once again, which they managed to keep until the end, sealing a five-point win (77-72) and moving to a 12-5 record, while the Scorchers fell to 1-14.
The home side won comfortably 87-63 and continue to lead the pack at the top of the BBL Championship.
Luke Nelson led the Lions with 19 points and seven rebounds, followed by Kosta Koufos who recorded a double-double of 16 points and 10 rebounds.
Antonio Williams put on a show for the Patriots with 26 points, but it was not enough to help his team secure the W.
London were quick out the gates, showing their strength from the tip and rushing to a double digit lead in just over five minutes (18-7), after Jordan Taylor’s lay-up.
A 5-0 run by Plymouth – on the back of Elvisi Dusha’s three-pointer and Markedric Bell’s lay-up saw the visitors reduce the deficit to six points (20-14), after seven minutes of action.
A 5-0 run by the Lions enabled the home side to take an 11-point lead (25-14) at the end of the first period.
The second quarter was very similar to first, with London asserting their dominance and restricting their opponents to just nine points.
Another 6-0 run to start the period – coupled with the 5-0 run to finish the previous one – saw the Londoners go up by as many as 17 points (31-14), after Sam Dekker finished hard after driving down the lane.
A three-pointer by Jonathan Komagum, followed by a pair of free-throws by Koufos, extended London’s lead to 19 points (36-17) – their largest lead of the game thus far.
Yet another run, this time 9-0, saw the league leaders end the first half with a 24-point lead (47-23), doubling up their opponents’ score.
Plymouth weren’t going to just roll over without a fight and came out of the locker rooms full of hustle, and managed to win the third quarter 20-24.
Led by Williams’ eight points and Dusha’s six – the visitors who had travelled over 215 miles to the nation’s capital – posed a lot of problems to the Lions’ defence during those 10 minutes.
Despite cutting the difference down to 20 points going into the final 10 minutes and then starting the last quarter with a 5-0 run (67-52), the Patriots could not capitalise further, with Vojtech Hruban’s triple ending that run and giving his team some breathing room once again (70-52).
Eight consecutive points by top-scorer Nelson – of which two were three-pointers – saw the Lions take a 23-point lead (82-59), with just over three minutes left to play, and effectively calling game.
The two teams then exchanged a couple of buckets, with the home side never really looking like they were going to let the dub slip.
With this win London move to a 12-2 record, while Plymouth drop to 8-8.
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