Plymouth Raiders season came to an end on Sunday night as they were defeated by Leicester Riders in the semi-final of the playoffs. Having already knocked out the league champions London Lions in the quarter-finals, the most successful team in the league over the last few seasons stood in the way of a trip to the O2 Arena.
Leicester had the lead going into the game following their victory in Plymouth on Wednesday night, but with 40 minutes still to play in the tie, either team could still advance. Coach Paul James brought Zak Wells into the starting line-up to add a big body inside the key, in what was to be his last professional game before retirement. Leicester started the game the strongest, opening a 12 – 4 lead after five minutes forcing a time out from Coach PJ. A 9 – 0 run coming out of the time out put Raiders up by one before both sides traded baskets for the remainder of the quarter with nothing separating the teams at 23 each.
An 8 – 2 burst for the visitors at the start of the second period put them in front by six, which was reduced to two after five minutes of play. A scoring drought for the Raiders allowed the visitors to regain the lead but a floating shot from Josh Wilcher and a step back from Donte Nicholas put the Raiders in front again. Jonas Järveläinen made two free with 30 seconds remaining before a layup from the home side gave them a 46 – 44 half time lead. Forgetting the opening few minutes of the game, Raiders controlled the pace and headed to the locker room trailing by four on aggregate with 20 minutes still to play.
Four points from Nicholas, three from Wilcher and Devontavius Payne and two from Rashad Hassan put Raiders ahead 52 – 56 on the night but that was short lived as Leicester hit back with two three-pointers and two free-throws following a foul on a three-point shot to regain the advantage. Leicester held their lead for the remainder of the period, and with ten minutes to play, were ahead by four, six on aggregate.
Tiredness showed for the Raiders, who had played the top two teams four times over an eight-day period and travelled over 800 miles, in the fourth period. Leicester opened a nine-point lead on the night early in the quarter, which stretched to double figures with just under five minutes remaining. A Payne foul, his fifth of the game saw a Raiders timeout looking to stop the Riders run. 75-seconds of play saw Riders hold their 10-point lead before they put together five points to stretch the lead to 15. Raiders again pulled the score back to 10 but ultimately the tie was over, and Leicester finished the scoring with two free throws to take the game 85 – 73 and advance to the final with an aggregate score of 155 – 141.
The Riders had a game plan coming into the game, an executed it perfectly. They targeted Wilcher and Nicholas, not letting them dictate the tempo of the game and took the victory. Järveläinen made an impact from the bench, top scoring for the Raiders with 17 points whilst Wilcher, Nicholas, Payne and Hassan were restricted to 12 each. Riders will now go onto play London City Royals in the final next Sunday at the O2 Arena.
The season may have come to an end on the court for the Raiders, but off the court, the staff are working towards next season building on the success of this one. Season memberships are available with early bird prices in place until the end of May and fans should keep an eye on the website and social media for the latest Raiders news ahead of the 2019/20 season.