London Lions 99 – 92 Plymouth Raiders

Plymouth Raiders travelled to the capital for a rare midweek game against London Lions. The Lions went into the game with the BBL Championship in sight, knowing that two wins from their remaining four games would clinch it, and Raiders were coming off a productive weekend which included a 20 point comeback away at London City Royals and a 23 point win at home against Worcester Wolves less than 20 hours later.

The game started evenly with both sides finding their feet early on. With the score at 11 – 9 in favour of the home side, Raiders put together a 16 – 0 run to open up a 14 point lead. London halved that in the final minute of the quarter but Raiders held an 18 – 25 lead at the end of the first period.

The second quarter saw the Raiders open up a double digit lead again after four minutes before the Lions responded holding the visitors to just six points in the next six minutes. Raiders were frustrated, and this showed as an unsportsmanlike and three technical fouls were called on them, allowing the Lions to get in front, 43 – 41 at the interval.

A stop start third period saw Lions called for eight fouls thanks to some good play from the Raiders. Lions held the lead at 53 – 48 with 7:44 remaining and Raiders turned that around thanks to a 9 – 0 burst. Lions again pulled in front but that was pulled level thanks to three free throws from Josh Palmer. Five further points from the Raiders closed out the quarter, leading 64 – 69.

The lead was cancelled out after a little over two minutes with the Lions tying the game at 75 – 75. An 8 – 0 burst from the home side when the Raiders were ahead 81 – 82 saw coach Paul James forced to call a time out to stop the run. A steal from the Lions and a dunk saw them stretch the lead to nine, and despite trying to force a comeback, the closet Raiders came was four with 30 seconds to play. A three man trap on a Lions player looked promising but a reach in foul and a disappointing reaction from Joonas Järveläinen saw him pick up the foul and collect a technical, his second of the night which sent him to the changing room. Lions converted three free throws in the dying seconds to run out 99 – 92 winners meaning one more win, or a defeat for Leicester Riders will see them clinch the title.

A big game from Donte Nicholas saw him lead the game in scoring with 29 points, 17 from the free throw line, as well pulling down 20 boards, two more than the rest of the team combined and adding seven assists. Rashad Hassan added 20 points and Josh Wilcher 19 whist Järveläinen was the only other player to score in double figures with 11.

The Raiders have a few days to recover and focus themselves for another important game on Sunday at the Pavilions against Bristol Flyers. The two teams have already met four times this season with the Flyers claiming victories in the two league games on their home court, whilst the Raiders knocked them out of the BBL Cup and BBL Trophy with wins at the Pavilions. Raiders sit two positions ahead of the Flyers in the league table, but with games in hand and the potential to catch them, Bristol will be sure to put up a fight in the race for the paly-offs. Tickets for the final league game of the season can be bought online from https://www.theticketstore.co.uk.

Paul Smith