The Cheshire Pheonix overcame traffic delays and a passionate home crowd to leave the Copper Box with a 68 – 67 win over the London Lions in the BBL on Friday night.
The Lions had every advantage going into the game, including an extra hour warm up time and a dominant shooting and rebounding performance but it counted for nothing in the end. London’s carelessness with the ball and a lack of discipline giving the Cheshire outfit 21 trips to the free throw line that ultimately proved costly as the visitors would score 21 points off turnovers and drain 19 of 21 from the line.
A great scoring night from Navid Niktash and Rashad Hassan, who also had 18 rebounds, was matched by former LA D-Fenders guard Dii’Jon Allen-Jordan who scored 25 points shooting a perfect 7 from 7 at the line. Lions guard Zaire Taylor had a double-double with 21 points and 11 assists in a game that ran entirely through his hands.
The home side started the stronger of the two sides, playing fast paced team focused basketball, with Niktash, Hassan and Taylor all making early buckets. The travel weary Phoenix players had plenty of bounce in their step but little in the way of a connection before the half as they trailed 52-44 after two quarters of exciting basketball.
The third quarter was a far cry from the opening two as an inspired Phoenix roared back, restricting the Lions to just 16 points in the quarter whilst scoring a game-high 26 including a two minute 8-0 run which saw the Lions’ lead disappear. The Lions hurt their chances badly in the quarter by rushing their possessions and committing 5 fouls in the third and 7 in the fourth. The Phoenix players took full advantage of the mistakes made by the Lions scoring an impressive 21 points off turnovers, many of them unforced, the result of bad passes.
The final quarter was as exciting as they come with the lead never more than 5 points and tied up with one minute to play, a three-point shot from Mike DiNunno setting up the climactic finish. Free throws from Zaire Taylor, who was wasteful from beyond the arc all night, had given the Lions a two-point cushion with 9 seconds on the clock. Mike DiNunno lead the Phoenix out of the time-out, got separation from Taylor at the top of the arc and drained a clutch three with just 4 seconds on the clock to lead by one.
Zaire Taylor would have the ball in his hands with the game on the line as Nigel Youngblood ran a play to give Taylor a chance at a three or a long two as time expired. The play came off perfectly, but the step back jumper from Taylor missed short as the Cheshire fans and bench erupted in celebration at the buzzer as the Lions lose another close game in a frustrating season for the Capital’s club.
Whilst the scoreline and finish will be crushing for fans of the Lions, for fans of the sport of Basketball in the UK this match was the perfect advertisement. Played at a high pace, with flashy dunks, clutch shooting and late drama the game had it all. Fans of both sides joined in applauding the efforts of both sides after a remarkable 40 minutes of basketball.