Giants 84-87 Phoenix
The Manchester Giants welcomed North West rivals Cheshire Phoenix to the National Basketball Performance Centre on Friday night in the first ‘Retro Series’ game of the season, with BBL Trophy runners up Cheshire edging a blockbuster tie 84-87 in front of the Sky Sports cameras.
Dirk Williams’ game-high 20 points, seven rebounds and three assists with some key buckets down the stretch – as well as 16 points and seven assists for Anthony Roberson - were central to the Giants’ dogged resistance to the very end.
But the Nix held on with some key made free throws in the dying moments of the game by Amorie Archibald to edge the fixture and take the season series between the two sides 3-1.
Newly-crowned BBL Player of the Month Tajh Green showed his star credentials from the outset, flushing the rock home with authority off a beautiful pocket pass from Rahmon Fletcher to give Giants fans an early moment of magic.
The hosts had already scored nine straight points before Cheshire got on the board, as Commonwealth gold medalist Jamell Anderson drained a long two-pointer to end his side’s early drought in the game.
In the frantic exchanges that made up the remainder of the quarter, it took the nous of a seasoned pro in Fletcher to steady the ship, and running the league’s best offence he put up six points and three assists to give the Giants a commanding 28-20 lead at the end of the first.
Into the second quarter and the Phoenix – or the Chester Jets as their retro jerseys read – refused to back down from the fight, stringing together a sequence of clinical offensive plays to get their first lead of the night with six and a half minutes to play before the half-time buzzer.
But once again the wily play of Fletcher was a constant thorn in the Nix’ side, with the Giants’ team captain consistently scoring the ball on his way to 19 points and seven assists on the night.
It was Green who led the hosts’ scoring at the interval though, and the rookie had a dominant 14 points and eight rebounds at the break.
20 defensive rebounds for the hosts to Cheshire’s 11 at half time would have pleased the home coaching team of Vince Macaulay, Nigel Lloyd and Paul Cantwell, as the Giants fought hard to protect the glass.
In a game brimming with offensive quality, the battle continued into the third and it was the turn of Nix duo of Anderson and Larry Austin Jr. to heat up as Ben Thomas’ side regained the lead and stayed ahead until midway through the fourth.
Team captain Austin Jr. was a livewire all night long as he collected a healthy 18 points, eight rebounds and six assists on 7/12 from the field.
A couple of cool-headed free throws each from William Lee and Anthony Roberson kept the Giants in contention down the stretch in the fourth, but Anderson‘s solid inside play maintained his side’s slender advantage, with the former Giant putting up 19 points, seven rebounds and three assists in the ball game.
A massive Williams three-pointer from way beyond the arc would give the Giants the lead at 83-82, forcing Coach Thomas to call a timeout with the clock winding down.
Cheshire immediately hit back with an and-one play straight out of the break to restore their narrow lead over the hosts, and Archibald’s pair of makes from the charity stripe would prove decisive as Williams could not get a deep three to go as the final buzzer sounded.
A highly entertaining and physical match up ended just tipping in the favour of the visiting Cheshire outfit, who claimed their first away win over Coach Macaulay’s men this season.
The Giants slipped to fifth in the BBL standings with the loss, and must now look ahead to Sunday’s match up against league winners London Lions who travel to the NBPC off the back of a narrow 83-81 win of their own against 2022 BBL Champions Leicester Riders at the Copper Box Arena on Friday night.