Plymouth Raiders entertained Leicester Riders on Wednesday night at the Plymouth Pavilions in the first leg of their BBL Playoff Semi-Final. Having knocked out number one seed London Lions a little over 48 hours beforehand, the club achieved the unachievable in getting the game ready to play in front of a packed home crowd.
The game started slowly with missed shots and turnovers from both sides before the Riders hit a three after two minutes. Two minutes later, the Raiders made their first basket of the night, but thanks to some good defence, the visitors had not added to their tally in this time. The Raiders basket ignited their offence and a further 10 points in the next couple of minutes put them 12 – 7 ahead. Riders were to reply to cut the gap to three, but Raiders immediately matched them with a basket of their own to put it back to five. This happened three times before the end of the period with the home side holding an 18 – 13 lead after 10 minutes.
Raiders increased the gap to seven early in the second, but the Riders responded with an 8 – 0 run to lead by one with six minutes to play in the half. Devontavius Payne halted the run, giving advantage to the Raiders who then remained scoreless for the next three minutes. Leicester edged in front again, Raiders responded again and that was how the final few minutes of the half panned out until JR Holder hit a three for the visitors to complete the scoring with Leicester holding a 31 – 34 lead at half time.
The game was tied at 39 a-piece after three minutes in the third before the Raiders put together a 12 – 5 run to lead by seven, the biggest gap for either team on the night. Six of those points came via three-pointers from player of the season Josh Wilcher, causing Riders coach Rob Paternostro to call a timeout. Two three pointers from JR Holder split by a basket from Rashad Hassan reduced the gap for the visitors before they made a lay up with seconds remaining in the period leaving the score at 53 – 52 in favour of the Raiders with ten minutes to play.
Raiders, playing their third game in four days, again pushed ahead after a couple of minutes, 60 – 56. Half way through the period the score was tied at 62 – 62 and following a foul and a technical called against the Raiders, coach Paul James used a time out to cool the situation. Tired legs began to show for the home allowing the Riders to push ahead by four with less than two minutes to play. Shawn Shelton got that back to two in the final minute, Leicester immediately responded with a two of their own and following another Raiders timeout, Donte Nicholas made the final basket of the night resulting in the Riders taking a narrow two point lead, 68 – 70 back to Leicester for the second leg on Sunday.
As has been said all season, Nicholas had another monstrous game for the Raiders with 16 points, 17 rebounds and narrowly missed out on his third triple-double of the season with nine assists. It was Hassan who led the scoring for the Raiders with 18 points, backed up by Wilcher on 17 and then Nicholas.
Raiders now have a few days to recovery and work on their game plan ahead of the second leg in Leicester on Sunday, 18:00 tip.