by Vlad Ionasc
Cheshire Phoenix suffered a seven-point defeat against the London Lions in the first leg of the BBL Playoffs Quarter-Finals at the Vertu Motors Arena in Newcastle.
The Nix got off to a slow start, as they missed 16 of 21 field goal attempts and scored just 10 points in the opening quarter. The Lions gained their biggest lead of the night (17) at the half-way point of the second frame, however the momentum then swung in Phoenix’s favour as they outscored their opponents by 18-to-5 in the last five minutes of the first half.
Cheshire performed slightly better than London in the third frame, as they added 15 points and held the Lions to 13. Kahron Ross and Matthew Bryan-Amaning provided the highlight of the quarter as they connected on a spectacular alley-oop just before the buzzer sounded.
The Nix found themselves ahead by one point with just 4:04 left on the clock, however the Lions executed better and benefitted from a stroke of luck in the dying stages of the contest, as Orlando Parker converted a four-point play and Dirk Williams buried a deep three-pointer to help the Lions obtain a 73-66 victory in Newcastle.
Williams finished with a game-high 22 points on 8-of-15 shooting and also added four rebounds and a couple of assists to his stat-line.
Justin Robinson totalled 17 points and five assists however he picked up an injury late in the final quarter and was forced to watch the last few minutes of the game from the sidelines.
Ben Thomas’ men exhibited their relentless hustle against the Londoners, as they accumulated 1o steals and forced their opponents into 17 turnovers on the night. Uncharacteristically, the Lions missed 25 of 36 attempts from three-point range and only scored 73 points, despite having a vast array of weapons on offence.
Ross finished with a team-high 13 points and six assists, while MBA (12) and Jalen Hayes (10) also finished in double-figure scoring.
As a team, the Phoenix struggled to make shots and finished with a 36% success rate from the field and just 11% from three-point land. Thomas’ men hauled in 15 offensive rebounds and capitalised on London’s carelessness in possession as they scored 23 points off of 17 turnovers, however they will have to win by eight points or more in Worcester in order to qualify for the next round of the Playoffs.
DeAndre Liggins scored the first bucket of the game with a floater at the 9:14 mark of the first quarter before Ross replied with a long two-pointer on the next possession. The two sides exchanged blows in the opening minutes of the game, however Vince Macaulay’s team managed to create a three-point gap before the clock hit the 5-minute mark. The Lions increased their lead to five through Robinson and forced the Nix into a time-out at the 3:38 mark. The Londoners gained their first double-digit lead of the game at the 1:29 mark after Williams and Robinson buried back-to-back triples. The Nix failed to reduce the deficit before the start of the second frame and found themselves trailing by 11 points after the opening 10 minutes.
Bryan-Amaning opened the second quarter with a make from inside the paint, however his effort was matched on the other end by Williams. MBA added another lay-up before he was countered once again by Williams, who connected on his second three-pointer of the night. London’s lead swelled up to 17 at the half-way point of the quarter as Liggins went on a solo 7-0 run. The Nix replied with a sizzling 12-2 run and closed the gap to seven points at the 1:57 mark. Thomas’ men went into the interval down 34-38 as they managed to outscore the Lions by three points in the final two minutes of the first half.
The Nix added four points through Kyle Carey and Jimbo Lull in the first three minutes of the second half, however the Lions replied with six through Robinson, Williams and Fahro Alihodzic. Cheshire failed to add any points on the board for over three minutes before Hayes split a pair of free-throws at the 5:12 mark, reducing London’s advantage to seven. Williams drilled an open three-pointer and extended his team’s cushion to double-digits at the 4:21 mark before the Nix came right back with two quick buckets from Ross and Carey, making it a six-point game with three minutes left in the third quarter. The Nix restricted the Lions to just two points in the last 180 seconds of the frame, while they added six through Ross and MBA, making it a two-point game before the start of the decisive quarter.
Williams went on a 5-0 run inside the first minute of the fourth quarter and increased London’s cushion to seven. Ross scored Phoenix’s first basket in the fourth quarter at the 8:13 mark. The Lions found themselves ahead 60-to-54 at the 6:22 mark before Hayes sparked a 7-0 run which concluded with a triple from Mike McCall Jr. at the 4:04 mark. Phoenix’s slim one-point advantage was short-lived, as Alihodzic converted a freebie and levelled the score at 61 points apiece with just under four minutes left on the clock. The Nix battled hard in the dying minutes of the contest, however the Lions finished the game with two clutch plays; a four-point play from Parker and a deep three-pointer from Williams, which propelled them to a 73-66 victory in the first leg of the Quarter-Final tie against the Nix.