by Vlad Ionasc
Cheshire Phoenix suffered a heartbreaking defeat against the Manchester Giants in the opening game of the BBL Championship.
Both teams shot the ball efficiently, especially from three-point range (Cheshire 14-33 3PT / Manchester 10-22 3PT) and exchanged leads on 13 occasions in what was a highly-entertaining affair at the Ellesmere Port Sports Village.
Teddy Okereafor had the chance to put his team in the ascendancy in the dying seconds of the game, however he failed to connect on his driving lay-up, the Giants hauled in the defensive rebound and the final buzzer sounded before the Nix could get another offensive possession.
Cheshire took a while to find their rhythm, as they amassed just nine points in the first five minutes of the contest, whilst allowing the Giants to rack up 15 points in the same time period. The Nix had the chance to tie the game at 18 points a piece with 2:08 remaining in the opening act, however Ben Mockford only managed to split his pair of free-throws and so the Giants remained in front by one point. Manchester guard Tyrik Armstrong committed a back-court violation at the 1:58 mark and it was Okereafor who punished Armstrong’s mistake by converting a lay-up to put the hosts ahead 19-18 with less than two minutes remaining in the first quarter. Geno Artison and Josh Steel generated a zippy 4-0 run to end the first quarter, meaning that Cheshire went into the second quarter trailing 19-22.
A three-pointer by Okereafor had the two sides knotted at 22 points apiece within the first 17 seconds of the second stanza. The Nix & Giants just traded buckets until the 5:19 mark when the hosts created a five-point cushion for themselves through another trey-ball from Okereafor. Martaveous McKnight replied with a three-pointer of his own before Wright reinstated Cheshire’s two-possession advantage with another trey at the 4:36 mark. Artison, Armstrong and McKnight combined for eight unanswered points, however it was Levi Bradley who stopped Cheshire’s drought and tied the game, 43-43, with a turnaround jumper at the 2:26 mark. The Giants closed the first half slightly better as they outscored the Nix 8-to-4 in the last two minutes and went into the interval up 51-47.
Okereafor opened the second half with another three-pointer before his GB teammate Dan Clark replied with a two-pointer on the next possession. Wright knocked down a three of his own which tied the game at 53 points apiece with 8:49 left to play in the third. The hosts found themselves behind by two points at the half-way mark of the penultimate quarter, however Manchester’s lead ballooned to a game-high 11 points in just two minutes as the Nix struggled to contain the visitors’ offence. Okereafor stopped Manchester’s 11-0 run with a three-pointer at the 2:47 mark and the Nix managed to cut the deficit to 70-75 heading into the final frame.
Josh McSwiggan drilled back-to-back triples in the first 40 seconds of the fourth quarter, however Clark put his side back on top with a lay-up at the 8:35 mark. The Giants led 84-to-80 with just five minutes to go however the Nix tied the game once again at the 2:05 mark thanks to a pair of consecutive three-pointers from Levi Bradley. Okereafor had the chance to increase Cheshire’s momentum when he went up for a wide-open lay-up on the fast-break, however he inexplicably missed what seemed like his easiest shot of the night and the scores remained level, at 91 points apiece. McKnight split a pair of free-throws with just seven seconds remaining which meant that Cheshire had the final possession and they only needed two points to snatch the win from the Giants. Ben Thomas called a time-out and opted for a line-up consisting of Okereafor, Mockford, Wright, McSwiggan and Bradley to close the game. Okereafor managed to find a gap in Manchester’s defence and drove to the basket for a lay-up, however his shot failed to drop and the Giants ran out victorious by the finest of margins, 92-91.
Despite coming up just short at the end of the contest, Okereafor put on a clinic against the Giants as he posted a 17-point, 12-rebound, 13-assist triple-double in which he shot 46% from the floor and 66% from three-point land.
Wright played the full 40 and racked up 24 points, six rebounds and four assists and connected on five of 12 attempts from downtown. Bradley scored a game-high 25 points on 9-of-17 shooting from the floor, including 3-of-6 from deep.
McKnight led the Giants in scoring with 24 points on 9-of-15 shooting from the field, while Armstrong supplied his team with a 12-point, 10-assist double-double.