The Plymouth Raiders will be facing the Leicester Riders next weekend as they advanced to the Semi Finals of the BBL Benecos Playoffs after their 169-177 aggregate victory over the London Lions.
The London Lions entered Monday’s second leg of their BBL Benecos Playoff quarter final with a 6 point advantage thanks to their 91-97 road victory in Plymouth on Sunday afternoon.
The two sides traded baskets throughout the first quarter, with an exciting and entertaining duel between Rashad Hassan and Brandon Peel, the man who now wears 22 for the Lions.
Hassan and Peel led all scorers in the opening term, both bagging 10 points, but it was the transition slam from Ludarius Tabb that got the arena to its feet as he gave the Lions a four point cushion with a minute to go in the period.
The opening ten minutes saw better basketball, and fewer fouls than in Plymouth yesterday, which will have come as a relief to fans and coaches alike.
The second stanza got off to a dream start for the Raiders as Andre Lockhart conceded an unsportsmanlike foul that Wilcher split at the line before Nicholas tied the ball game on the night.
The Lions went to their bench in the second quarter giving youngster Jonathan James and veteran Paul Guede extended minutes, backed up by Peel, Tabb and Robinson. The Lions looked like they wanted to save the legs of some of the players who contributed yesterday, but also looked for defensive intensity and pace in James.
James played a vital role in slowing down the Joshua Wilcher who was impressing, as well as making so excellent plays on the offensive end including a perfect assist to Peel who finished a tricky reverse layup.
The Raiders took a one point lead with just over two minutes left in the half with back to back three pointers from Payne and Nicholas but the Lions persisted with their rotated five on the floor. The Raiders would edge the quarter, 22-17 and take a two point lead into the half, Shawn Shelton scoring a layup just as the buzzer sounded.
The Raiders started the second half hot, going on a 9-1 run to take their first aggregate lead of the day. Peel went on a one man crusade to keep the Lions in the contest as the bench screamed “be smart” at their players.
The Lions were settling for half chances early in the shot-clock as the Raiders looked to push tempo as a shell-shocked Copper Box and Lions team struggled to contain Hassan, Wilcher and Nicholas’s offensive prowess.
The Raiders had grown the on the night score to 12 points, but the Lions fought to bring it back, with Peel playing some of his best basketball of his young career at the biggest moment. Peel would finish the contest with 22 points and 11 rebounds.
The Raiders, whilst excelling on the score-sheet, picked up five fouls in the period with over 3 minutes to play and Paul James was forced to sit Rashad Hassan who picked up his fourth foul in the contest. Hassan, would hardly feature for the remainder of the contest but Joonas Jarvelainen more than adequately deputised for him, finishing with 11 points and 9 rebounds.
A fantastic 9-0 run, which saw the Lions defending smartly and calmly eroded the Raiders lead thanks to 5 points from Robinson and two from Peel and Bristol to get the momentum back behind the hosts. The run was ended and a four point margin was restored late in the quarter thanks to a triple from Payne who had a quietly impressive game.
The back and forth nature of the two legs continued as the final period got underway as Nicholas and Peel traded buckets to keep the gap to four on the night, a lead of two for the hosts overall.
The Raiders regained the overall lead as Jarvelainen split free-throws at the line midway through the quarter as the Lions shooting had completely abandoned them. With 5:51 to play in the quarter the Raiders were on a 8-2 run, and the Lions were playing without an injured Justin Robinson who was forced off with a knee injury after a missed layup.
The Raiders looked to press home their advantage through a monster jam from Jarvelainen, who was playing excellent big man basketball, over Kervin Bristol and made his and-one from the line to give the Raiders a 13 point lead on the night.
Ladarius Tabb, who had played a solid game scoring 11 points and gathering 9 rebounds, fouled out of the contest with 5:04 to play, collecting the Lions’ fifth team foul putting them into the penalty in the process. Jarvelainen made no mistakes from the line.
With 3:51 left in the contest and staring the prospect of their season going up in smoke the Lions used their first timeout to try to save their season and overcome the 7 point aggregate deficit.
Justin Robinson, playing on a bad knee, took a huge step towards that with a big three on a broken play, but Nicholas would get one of them back at the line. The Raiders did an excellent job of managing the game and getting to the foul line, whilst the Lions struggled to create any real opportunities and could not breakdown the zone defence of the Raiders.
The Lions gave themselves faint hope late on as Jordan Spencer drove at the hoop with under a minute to play after a tough defensive stand by the hosts. Spencer drained the layup and made the and-one free throw. It looked like hope was once again gone as the Raiders had the inbound in the Lions end but Peel stole the ball and found Spencer who drove and scored it high off the glass. But in the end, it was too little too late for the league champions as they lost the final quarter 12-22 and the Raiders had pulled off an incredible, and richly deserved, upset victory.
Their victory was secured thanks to their zone defence which helped to slow the Lions in transition and forced the Lions out of the paint and to attempt low percentage mid-range attempts.
The Lions had a very off day shooting. The league champions shot 29.3% from the field going 3/26 from three point land, whilst the Raiders took 14 fewer shots, but crucially made 9 of their 20 three point attempts, including a game best 4/6 from Devontavius Payne.
The Raiders, as virtue of being the bottom seed, now face the highest remaining seed, the Leicester Riders with a place at the o2 Arena and a chance to send Zak Wells into retirement as a Playoff Champion on the line.