The Plymouth Raiders are heading into Sunday’s second leg of their Benecos BBL Playoff Semi Final just two points down against the Leicester Riders following their narrow 68-70 loss at the Plymouth Pavilions.
The Raiders made their route to the semi final following their stunning road victory over the league champions, London Lions, 86-72 in London on Monday afternoon, and performed extremely well against the reigning playoff champion Leicester Riders on just one days rest.
The Riders secured their semi-final berth thanks to their aggregate victory over Cheshire Phoenix in the 2 vs 7 match up. Leicester beat the Phoenix on both occasions, but just edged their home leg by a final score of 71-68.
Talking to Plymouth players after their win on Monday over the Lions, they were delighted to be in the semi finals and quietly confident going up against the Riders, knowing they had given them good games earlier in the season.
Both sides took time to get into their stride, but it was the visitors who opened the scoring with a triple from British Guard Connor Washington. The Riders added to their advantage to bring the game lead up to five points early in the period, but a storming scoring run from former Rider Rashad Hassan helped five the Raiders a five point advantage that they would nurse throughout the remainder of the quarter.
The much fancied visitors came out of the gates hot to start the second quarter and quickly set about erasing the deficit through the scoring of Tim Williams and Kiefer Douse. Williams had an excellent scoring night bagging a game high 19 points, whilst Holder tied Rashad Hassan for 18 points. The sides traded baskets in the middle part of the period before the Riders broke the tie through a JR Holder triple late in the period to give the Riders a slim 34-31 lead at the break.
The third period was the closest of the game thus far, with the Raiders edging it 22-18 and restoring the lead. MVP candidate Donte Nicholas, who played the full 40 minutes along with Josh Wilcher, got the scoring underway for his side but it would be Wilcher and Hassan who contributed the bulk of the Raiders points in the third period, whilst Nicholas, who was one assist away from a triple-double contributed in other areas. Nicholas had an incredible, 16 points, 17 rebounds and 9 assists in his 40 minutes.
Wilcher put in an incredible shift yet again for his side as he played the full 40 minutes for the third time in four days, every game in this playoffs. Wilcher finished the contest with 17 points.
Despite the excellent play from the hosts, Leicester are one of the best sides in the country for a reason and a late Douse layup brought the gap to within one point.
The final term was edged by the Riders who take a two point advantage into their home court on Sunday. JR Holder got his side cooking with 6 points early in the period, with numerous trips to the line, before 4 points from Williams countered the good work from the Raiders scorers. The sides traded baskets as the game clock winded down and the Raiders halved the gap to two points with a Nicholas two point shot with just seconds remaining. The Riders had enough time to put up a shot but Washington missed the three but carried the win into Sunday’s showdown.
The Raiders can be very happy with the way they played in this game, and will take confidence at having come back from a larger gap against the league champions on Monday.
With additional prep time however, it is difficult to look past the Riders, who under head coach Rob Paternostro are amongst the best prepared teams in basketball.