Plymouth Raiders 67 – 93 London Lions

The Plymouth Raiders were made to look ordinary Sunday, as the BBL leading London Lions picked apart the city side in a dominant show for force, loosing 67-93 at Pavilions. 

After surrendering a slim lead close to the end of the first quarter, the Raiders were firmly on the backfoot as the visitors ran away with a landslide victory.

After the disappointing loss, head coach Paul James identified the Raiders lacklustre rebound effort as a key to the side’s loss, he said:

“We were playing a very good team in the London Lions, they’ve only lost two games in the BBL this season for a reason, they play really tough.

“There’s still a couple of things we wanted to do well tonight, that includes rebounding the ball and we didn’t do that and they killed us on the ball, then also take care of the basketball and we didn’t do that either.

“So, put those two together and we have a bit of a disaster of a game really.

“It’s just one of those things where the guys have to want to go and rebound the ball, they’ve got to want to box-out, one through five, they’ve all got a responsibility to do that.

“London are a great rebounding team, they’re relentless, every single guy is relentless in crashing the boards, and they killed us on those boards tonight, so we paid the price.”

The Lions showed ferocity through the mid-court, often dictating the speed of transitions and keeping the Raiders on the back foot. James, though, felt other shortcomings to be the root cause of the Raiders woes, saying:

“We wanted to try slowing them down, but you have to be scoring, you have to be getting to the free-throw line and rebounding the ball, if you’re not doing those things it’s then hard to turn around and slow the Lions down.

“The lions are relentless, but that’s what we can learn from them, nothing can be too much trouble for us, we’ve got to go out there and play as hard as we can.”

Play speed was ferocious after the opening tip was gobbled up by Donte Nicholas for the Raiders to drive early. Both squads traded blows and missed in equal proportion, but it was clear early that the game winner would be determined by the side who controlled the blistering transition game best. 

One sector the Raiders were slow to warm to was defensive rebounding, with the Lions proving themselves dominant under the hoop, which proved to be a mercy for them after some less than stellar shooting. Those rebounds continued to hamper the Raiders and the half ended heavily against them in this category at 11-4 rebounds won.

The Raiders were first to etch a lead, though, pulling ahead by four, but the Lions were quick to pounce and keep up, leaving much of the opening 10 a close affair with both sides separated by a single possession.

The Lions secured their own first quarter lead with three minutes remaining, and begun to punish their hosts as shooting began to tighten up with shots consistently falling their way, pulling ahead to a comfortable 17-24 lead, a lead that wouldn’t be challenged for the remainder of the game.

The pace filled play rumbled on into the second quarter, and the Lions, now playing with their largest margin, started to stifle the Raiders in zone defence, closing any avenue of attack to the rim. Multiple times the hosts would find themselves struggling to turn the corner on the stout defence leading to a couple of shot clock violations. 

Josh Wilcher added some heat to the Raiders floundering attack, pounding home a three from range which proved to be useful in snapping the stagnating Raider score line. 

The Lions, however, seemed to be playing too far ahead of themselves at times, especially when trying to run scripted plays on the break. Lions Guard, Jordan Spencer, was skilful in drawing the Raiders defence on to him as his small frame darted inside, destined for a layup, only to flick the ball outside to an open look which often missed. Shots also failed to fall home from smart passes inside, and the Raiders finally managed to win some face under their own hoop in securing loose ball, but couldn’t take advantage of the ensuing vital possessions, allowing the visitors to keep ahead. 

Apart from another well executed three from Wilcher, nothing from the Raiders attack stood out in the final minutes of the quarter as the side struggled to find an answer for the dominant defence. 

28 points in the paint, and 10 from turnovers boosted the Lions to a 13-point lead at the half, led by Brandon Peel. The Raiders themselves were led by Nicholas and Wilcher with 11 and eight respectively. 

The second half opened to a couple of major injuries that left both squads scrambling. Raiders captain Zak Wells was the first to fall after finding himself on the receiving end of an accidental blow to the head with his Lions counterpart. Then, just a couple of minutes later, the Lions were robbed of their scoring leader Peel after a muddled defensive play placed strain on the forwards knee. 

In terms of play, the bruising interactions would continue from both sides with physicality being shown in all corners of the court, especially when securing up any loose ball.  

Both sides were also equal in shooting, and the score line did little budging until the Raiders briefly put on a spurt to draw within 10 for a couple of minutes before the Lions resumed their methodical game plan.

Shaun Shelton found success in the third, drawing two shooting fouls whilst nailing the extras, but in a game of matchups, the Lions were in control over the rest of the Raiders’ offence. 

Even without the presence of Peel on the court, the Lions continued to score where necessary to keep the scoreboard ticking, both bolstering their position and further demoralising their hosts the same time.

Already lacking depth at centre with the loss of Wells, the Raiders lost any potency in the paint as they tried in vain to feed the ball over the arc of Lions defenders to Rashad Hassan. The trick was never lost on the Lions who simply plucked the ball before any threat could develop. 

The Lions would continue to execute a well formulated game plan through the remainder of the game, cutting out the Raiders inside attack, and forcing them to shoot from beyond the arc. Being forced into one-dimensional play, the Raiders were easy to predict, and with no real consistent three-point shooters on the court, were easy to shut down, paralysing any competition until the final buzzer rang. 

Rob Tunley