Giants 90-96 Lions
League winners London Lions visited the National Basketball Performance Centre on Sunday afternoon to face the Manchester Giants, with the travelling side winning 90-96 to earn their 29th league victory of the season.
On a night where the scoring tear of the silky Dirk Williams continued, with a personal tally of 35 points and 11 rebounds in the game, the Giants slipped to their second defeat of the weekend following the narrow loss against Cheshire Phoenix on Friday night.
March’s BBL Player of the Month Tajh Green also posted 21 points and a mammoth 15 rebounds alongside three blocks, but Vince Macaulay’s men were unable to outgun their opponents who have lost just four times in the league all season.
Lions’ head coach Ryan Schmidt had come to the NBPC with a clear defensive strategy of making his bigs guard the three-point line, and consequently open looks from range were hard to come by for the hosts, who shot just 22% from three in the first half.
But the early exchanges between the two sides were still an exhibition in attacking basketball, as both teams effectively moved the ball to create shots, with a high-scoring open quarter ending with Lions up 24-31.
On an unusually quiet scoring night for Giants’ team captain Rahmon Fletcher, the two-time former BBL MVP still racked up a whopping 11 assists as he continued on the road to comfortably taking the league assists title – he is currently 80 assists ahead of second in the race.
The second quarter was a demonstration of just why this Lions side have been so hard to defeat this season, as key contributions from the bench mob of Luke Nelson, Josh Sharma and Vojtech Hruban evidenced the depth of Coach Schmidt’s roster.
It was far from plain sailing for the visitors though as the Giants answered each bucket to stay within a single digit deficit, and banged the offensive boards to score twice as many second-chance points as the Lions with 14 in the game.
And with just seconds remaining in the first half, Toronto-born Nick Lewis swiped in for a steal on a defensive set and launched a speculative shot from inside his own half with the ball hitting nothing but net in the undisputed play of the night.
His spectacular long-range buzzer beater meant the Giants headed into the break with the scores at 45-52 to the Lions - but the wind firmly in the sails of the hosts.
Into the third quarter and the visitors, who play Badalona in a EuroCup playoff clash on Wednesday, extended their lead through the relentless scoring of guard Aaron Best who poured in a career-high 28 points – including six successful makes from nine attempts outside the arc.
The abrasive rebounding of Anthony Roberson on both ends of the court complicated matters for the visitors though, as the former NBA G-League forward collected 10 points and seven rebounds on the night and constantly made life difficult for Schmidt’s men.
The ejection of Olumiye Oni to the jeers of the crowd midway through the third was an indicator that the Giants were under the skin of their opponents from the capital, and despite a double-digit differential there was a sense that the hosts were not a million miles away from piecing together a comeback.
But guard Aaron Best continued to score the rock with ease, draining three triples in the third as the visitors built a commanding lead.
18 fourth-quarter points for Williams once more brought the Giants to within touching distance of their opponents and the home crowd kept faith that their team could pull off something special.
However it was not to be, and the Lions were able to resist the late fightback and take the win back down to London with just a handful of fixtures left before the playoffs.
One key positive for the Giants is that they kept former NBA man Sam Dekker to just 11 points, although the Lions’ team captain did play reduced minutes.
The Giants’ second loss of the weekend means that they now sit at fifth in the BBL standings – every remaining league fixture is a must win if they wish to secure a favourable playoff run.