The Plymouth Raiders were pipped to the post Sunday after an agonising end to a close game proved too much to return from, losing to the Leicester Riders 87-90 at the Pavilions.
Throughout the hard-fought matchup, the Raiders looked to be comfortably in control, repelling numerous waves of attack from the Riders who held the lead only twice in the afternoon, but the Raiders where punished by late fourth quarter mistakes that proved to be their demise.
Although the defeat was hard to swallow, head coach Paul James was full of praise for his squad who battled hard on court. He said:
“We did some really good things today defensively, I’m really quite happy about a lot of things we did well.
“I thought it was a great game of basketball, both teams did their homework and tried to take each other out of their sync and I think we had the better of it for most of the game.”
But the coach was quick to identify where the game broke down, adding:
“It just came down to that fourth quarter where we had two or three possessions where we just didn’t put the ball in the hole and we actually threw the ball away, I didn’t know what we were doing.
“They made us pay for that, it’s difficult but it’s something we can look at and hopefully if we do eventually make the playoffs and get a team like Leicester we’ll be able to put those things right.”
A well-rested Raiders squad took the court eager to beat the Riders and avoid the season sweep, matching up with visitors playing their second game in three days.
Driven by a close 82-88 loss last time out in Leicester, James’ squad targeted another statement win against the reigning championship winners who came into the Pavilions second in the table with an admirable 13-4 record.
Tip off opened up a flurry of points at both ends, but a couple of shooting fouls, including one awarded from outside the arc, left the Raiders ahead by the slim margin of three early.
Two time BBL player of the month, Donte Nicholas, tried his luck driving inside on three occasions which resulted in as many empty possessions, as the big body of Tim Williams served as a roadblock in the paint.
The struggles inside were no trouble at all though as the Raiders rattled off a 14-4 run, highlighted by a treble of threes courtesy of Josh Wilcher with two and Joonas Jarvelainen for one.
Red hot from the field, the Raiders would end the opening quarter with a score eleven points in their favour and clearly the stronger team.
The second quarter heralded a swing of fate for the Riders who could count themselves lucky on a couple of tough shooting fouls awarded against the Raiders. Nailing their free throws, the travelling outfit further dragged themselves back against a couple of lacklustre Raider drives, bringing the deficit back to four.
Fortunately though, panic wasn’t on the mind of the green machine, who took the Leicester rush in their stride, composing to strike back themselves and get ahead 12 points, the largest margin of the game.
Leicester struggled through the entire first half to find their mark from range despite attempts at quick ball movement to work occasional open looks, and by the halfway mark they’d find themselves in a 0-6 shooting hole.
The Raiders were stout defensively in man coverage and at winning the battle for defensive rebounds, but the Riders still found ways to dart inside and put up two’s, with point guard Conner Washington proving pivotal at calling plays, leading to 28 points in the paint by half.
Scoring from both sides continued to trickle in, but the continuing foul difficulties made for a close ending to the quarter with the lead still belonging to the Raiders 43-39.
The Raiders emerged to the third quarter a little sluggish on offence, making some poor shooting decisions, but some success was still present on the baseline with Nicholas and Shawn Shelton working the stripe well.
Still, the most dominant team was unquestionable and it was the Raiders who played unruly hosts, keeping their foot on the throat of their opposition in spurts of brilliance as they settled in after the break.
After seven failed attempts for three, the Riders drained their first with two minutes remaining in the third, a testament to coach James’ strong wall of defence.
Fouls continued to plague the play of game as both sides tried to impose themselves to the referees displeasure. Built on more free throws, the Riders would once again attempt to gun down the Raiders score to mixed results, going 12-22 from the line, another column the Raiders held themselves superior.
With the life of the game beginning to fade, it was now the Riders who proved their depth of squad and championship pedigree, as they mounted one last flashy attack to put pressure on the tired Raider defence at a crucial juncture. With the three-point line well-manned, the paint would prove to be the Raiders Achilles heel throughout the game, and Riders were left to score 64 points under the shadow of the hoop.
The mounting fourth quarter pressure did little to alter the Raider mindset at first, as they pressed through as best they could, playing unselfish ball which opened up opportunities across the width of the court.
The points weren’t enough to stop the gallop, though, and on the sixth minute of play the Riders finally found a breakthrough to take their first lead since their opening drive bucket, and it was a lead they’d never relinquish.
Agonisingly, Riders shots time and time again found their target, which, together with uncoordinated drives at the other end, broke the backs of the Raiders despite a late Jarvelainen three pointer which kept the sides separated by one with 40 seconds left.
Playing the foul game, Riders top scorer, Williams dunked his 34th points of the night after being left unmarked under the hoop, sealing the Raiders fate and crushing any hope of last-minute heroics.