London Lions 82–74 Cheshire Phoenix (19-24, 20-19, 28-18, 15-13)
(Lions – Zubcic 15, Ward-Hibbert 13, Soluade 10; Phoenix – Archibald 24, Austin 22, Evans 13)
Leicester Riders 75-79 Bristol Flyers (21-18, 19-24, 14-22, 21-15)
(Riders – Loving 18, Love/Jackson 12, Whelan 9; Flyers – Delpeche 23, Olison 19, Miller 15)
The Leicester Riders had to fight a fierce battle to reach the British Basketball League Play-Off Final, as they lost 75-79 to the Bristol Flyers at the Morningside Arena, but earned the 159-156 victory over both legs.
Entering the Semi-Final with a seven-point deficit, Bristol put on a valiant display away from home, in a highly-competitive contest. Andreas Kapoulas’ side just couldn’t do enough to advance to next Sunday’s Final.
Bristol were led by a dominant display from Malcolm Delpeche. The big man led the game in scoring with 23 points from 71% shooting, while also logging eight rebounds and two blocks. He was backed by teammates Tevin Olison’s 19-point display and Mike Miller, who impacted the game in a variety of ways – scoring 15, pulling down seven rebounds and handing out five dimes.
Marc Loving starred for Leicester, recording 18 points, four rebounds and five assists, while shooting at a rate of 62% from the field. Zach Jackson also played a key role, with 12 points and seven dishes.
Delpeche set the standards early, scoring within the first 13 seconds and making a start to his impressive performance. But three consecutive buckets from Loving at the end of the first quarter ensured that the Riders built on an early lead.
Bristol tied the game through Delpeche within minutes of the second quarter and both teams exchanged leads for the remainder of the period.
The Flyers remained aggressive in the third, opening the lead up to double digits. Nerves began to settle in for Rob Paternostro’s side, as their aggregate advantage hung on by a thread.
A competitive fourth quarter then played out, with the Flyers remaining ahead, even extending their lead to 12 points and putting themselves ahead overall. The teams then swapped the aggregate lead throughout the final minutes.
The game was tight throughout; both sides totalled eight steals and eight assists, while Bristol out-performed Leicester on the board by just three rebounds. Assured offensive efforts from Loving and Jackson made sure Bristol’s performance on the night wasn’t quite enough, as Leicester punched their ticket to face either London or Cheshire at the O2 Arena.
In the first leg of the other Semi-Final, the juggernaut London Lions moved one game closer to a domestic treble with an 82-74 victory over the Cheshire Phoenix at the Crystal Palace National Sports Centre.
With key players missing, Ryan Schmidt’s team played offence by committee, with Tomislav Zubčić tallying 15 points and Josh Ward-Hibbert scoring 13 at an efficient 71% from the field. Jordan Taylor moved the ball effectively for the League and Cup champions, recording a game high eight assists.
The result was tough on Phoenix guard Amorie Archibald, who logged 24 points, three rebounds and four assists, while captain Larry Austin helped out with 22 points and seven rebounds.
Cheshire came out flying, with Austin and Maceo Jack attacking the basket with confidence. Ben Thomas’ side had cause for optimism, as they ended the first period with a five-point lead. London were slow to start, with an uncharacteristically lacklustre performance from beyond the arc.
The next quarter was a competitive affair, as Ward-Hibbert found his shot and began to shrink the Phoenix lead slowly but surely. Cheshire stood strong and kept the Lions at arm’s length. It was game on, as half time arrived with the Phoenix up by four.
As the third quarter began, a frustrated London side decided enough was enough. Behind dynamic efforts from Mo Soluade and Zubcic, they roared their way into the lead, winning the frame by ten and gaining an advantage that they wouldn’t surrender for the rest of the fixture.
Ball movement was a huge factor in the game, with London outmatching their opponents in assists by 13. Cheshire must improve on their three-point shooting to reach the final, as they drained just three of their 17 attempts from downtown.
The second leg will take place tomorrow at the Cheshire Oaks Arena and while the Lions have now been victorious in all six meetings between the teams this season, the Phoenix backcourt’s display will have generated hope, as they aim to overcome the eight-point deficit.