The Plymouth Raiders dominated the London Lions Sunday, in a fantastic show of squad play, to win the sides first game of the 2018 BBL season, 95-88.
Playing from behind for a large portion of the game, the Raiders rallied at the right time to overcome a nine-point deficit, to secure, extend, then hold the win, playing off strong defence and timely shooting to win over a strong Lion squad fresh off a victory of their own.
Emotional after his sides first entry into the win column, head coach Paul James was proud of the performance. He said:
“I’m just really pleased with the reaction from the guys after Friday, I wanted to see that reaction tonight and I thought it was a fantastic game in front of a great home fanbase.
“I think the key is trust, trusting in each other both defensively and offensively, trusting each other to run through the sets we train for week in, week out, and just trust in the plays and allow them to work, and in the second half we did that really well.”
“We have to make playing at home a bit of a fortress, I feel like on Friday we let that game slip through our fingers a little bit, this weekend we had to do something, and I’m delighted with what we’ve done.”
One key to the sides win was returning Australian Josh Wilcher, who came second in team scoring with 26. Wilcher was relieved to get the first win away, saying:
“It’s good to get a team victory, I felt like everyone had a good game, but at the same time we were playing for each other which was the main thing.
“It’s good to get the monkey off the back, we felt a bit disappointed Friday night and the crowd really helped us today.
“They came out very aggressive, especially towards myself trying to limit my ball touches.”
Instead of showing frustration towards aggressive marking, Wilcher turned it to his advantage winning his side eight fouls and eleven points from the line. He said:
“It’s part of my game that I like, I can get to the foul line and hopefully make a few, so I’ve got to keep doing that.
“I mean it’s nothing if we only win one game, we’ve got Cheshire next week, then Glasgow after that, so if we can get a couple in a row it’ll be great for us.”
Enjoying their first look at home court during the regular season, the Raiders got out of the blocks with energy to take the early initiative and go ahead.
Donte Nicholas was first to score two, quickly followed by another slick shot from Jamal Williams, who was barely inside the arc.
The Lions pounced right back with a contested three as the squad seemed content with sitting outside to go for the more points, which failed to work out early as they missed four in a row.
The Lions would continue to tread water in the match, giving away too many penalties in the first quarter, leaving the Raiders to enjoy the bonus early.
Despite the fouling, the Lions never seemed to go away, in part because the Raiders couldn’t take advantage of seven foul turnovers, and in part because of poor defensive rebound recovering.
Joonas Jarvelainen would show a nice individual effort at the end of the first to level scoring at 16, muscling inside to draw the foul and add the free throw for three.
The second quarter started close between the two squads, but again it was the Lions who crawled ahead as the Raiders still continued to lose out on rebounds whilst letting their own fouls stack up.
After a scoreless opening fifteen, Josh Wilcher sprung to life to score a long ranged three to begin a nice haul of points. Using his smaller frame, Witcher won himself 5 fouls in the half, going 5-7 (71%) to take lead in team scoring quickly.
After working the paint, the Lions again went outside for answers and began to find their range. The Raiders kept up with twos and fouls, but the drips couldn’t hold against the Lions flow of points. The Raiders would trail 36-42 at the half being led by Wilcher with 10 points.
Raiders could feel pleased with themselves to hold Brandon Peel to two points through the first half, and it was clear he was a team target to lock down, but the star talent began to make his mark in the second half.
The third quarter began the way the first half had ended, with Wilcher and Jarvelainen leading the spearhead, as the Raiders hunted down the score, but even with hot hands prevailing, fouling kept the Lions out front and out of reach.
Fresh legs were rotated through the squad for the Raiders, but the team didn’t seem to have a reply as the score slowly became a mountainous task, with the visitors taking every opportunity to score in their stride whilst, also being given too much freedom on the paint.
A nine-point gap was cut to four, though, by the final intermission, and with players across the court beginning to step up when needed, all present at the Pavilions felt a quiet confidence growing in their team, and boy did the Raiders deliver in the fourth.
All seemed to come together perfectly. All sectors of game complemented each other, shots found their mark, defensive stances were made, and interceptions won, something that drove on the players, who showed no signs of fatigue charging up and down the court.
Playing spirited basketball for each other, the Raiders finally reclaimed the lead after a 20-minute absence, working their way into the game under the radar.
The Lions proved themselves to be no pushovers. Multiple times in the quarter Raiders players would come level with an outstanding shot, only to watch the Lions miraculously score three of their own at the end. It didn’t matter though, whenever the score seemed to be slipping away someone would work a magic touch through the defence or hit a three from way out to fuel the run for victory.
At the other end, the defensive sets became an almost impenetrable wall of bodies hustling to the ball. Unable to be dominant once more inside, the Lions were forced to take three-point pot shots that failed to hit home, and with every miss or defensive rebound, the crowd only grew louder to remind the visitors of their short comings.
Still, the lead remained slim for the hosts, who felt uneasy with a two-point buffer with two minutes thirty to play. Ready to put the game away for good, Jarvelainen once again lived up his nickname, the hitman, scoring two three pointers with a calm precision in thirty seconds to stun the Lions and force a scrambled time out.
Out ahead by eight, the Lions couldn’t respond to the Raiders change of play and ultimately ran out of time as the ball was retained by their foes, and the clock was run down.
The Raiders would end the successful day on 50% shooting, 45 rebounds and 22 assists, led by Jarvelainen on 28, Wilcher on 26 and Nicholas on 16.
The victory proves the Raiders could be onto something special this season. If they can maintain and reproduce the fourth quarter shift put in Sunday, big things could be ahead for the rebuilt city side.
Words by Rob Tunley