London Lions 72-86 Plymouth Raiders

Plymouth Raiders overcame a six point deficit to defeat number one seed London Lions 72 – 86 on their home court to advance to the semi-finals of the playoffs where they will face Leicester Riders.

Lions, who have been dominant this year, winning both the BBL Championship and BBL Cup and narrowly missing out on the BBL Trophy in an overtime defeat in the final, were chasing their third piece of silverware this season and had the advantage following yesterday’s 91 – 97 win at the Pavilions. As Coach Paul James said in his post-match interview on Sunday, ‘it’s just half time’, and over the 80 minutes, his team deserved to progress further into the competition.

You couldn’t split the teams in the first period with the lead changing hand eight times. Ten points from Rashad Hassan led the way for the Raiders, but it was the Lions who held a 26 – 23 lead after 10 minutes. Lions maintained their slender lead in the second quarter, despite the Raiders tying the score on several occasions. With three minutes remaining until half time, the home side were ahead 40 – 35 until three-pointers from Devontavius Payne and Donte Nicholas put the Raiders up by one. Lions added a further three throws to their score split by a Nicholas basket and a Shawn Shelton dunk on the buzzer following an assist from Nicholas to give the Raiders a two point lead in the game but still trailing 140 – 136 on aggregate.

A solid start from the visitors to the second half saw a 9 – 1 run which saw the gap open to 10, giving the Raiders the lead the needed to progress into the semi-finals. Raiders stretched that to 12 points with a little under five minutes remaining in the third, and as expected the home side rallied with a 12 – 1 run to cut the gap to a single point. Payne completed the scoring for the period hitting a three to cut the aggregate deficit to two with ten minutes to play.

The game was for the taking and again the Raiders started the period the strongest. Following a basket for both sides, a 9 – 0 run regained the double digit advantage and this stretch to 14 with 90 seconds to play following a strong drive to the basket by Denzel Ubiaro. A time out for the home side saw them reduce the gap to nine, but with under 30 seconds remaining, they were forced to stop the clock by fouling. First Payne was sent to the line, converting both, followed by Nicholas who made one of two. With the score at 72 – 84 on the night, the home side needing six points to take the game into overtime. Brandon Peel, who was the go to man in both games for the Lions, pushed the ball forward but was stripped by player of the season Josh Wilcher who was subsequently fouled, converting both his free throws giving the Raiders the 72 – 86 win but more importantly the 177 – 169 aggregate win and a place in the semi-finals.

Raiders were once again led by Donte Nicholas who had 24 points and 13 rebounds. Hassan added 18 and nine in a little over 23 minutes and fellow starters Payne, Wilcher and Joonas Järveläinen scored 16, 11 and 11 retrospectively. Järveläinen also has nine rebounds, Payne eight and Wilcher dished out seven assists.

Raiders will now face Leicester Riders in the semi-finals after they progressed following victory over Cheshire Phoenix. Keep an eye on social media for announcements as to when the home leg will be and when tickets will be on sale. The away leg will take place in Leicester on Sunday 12th, 18:00 tip. In the other semi-final, BBL Trophy winners London City Royals will face Sheffield Sharks.

Paul Smith