The London Lions beat the Cheshire Phoenix by a final score of ——, Friday night in London, as they secure the 6th seed for the BBL playoffs.
The hosts rushed out the gate early and maintained their scoring run throughout the first half to lead 60-42 after 20 minutes of basketball.
The Lions forced the Phoenix into a 3rd-minute timeout, after taking a 13-2 lead from a dominant two-handed slam from Rashad Hassan. After both sides had a chance to talk it over the Lions kept going with what worked, driving to the paint and kicking out to Navid Niktash who started white hot, draining three after three. Zaire Taylor made his 200th assist of the season early in the first quarter and played an intense game playing well on both sides of the ball throughout the first half.
Navid Niktash started the game hot draining 4 of 5 threes in the first half to have 18 points at halftime, but the story of the half was how well the Lions were shooting the three ball as a team and how physical the Phoenix were, without the impact they would have expected.
The Londons gained and held a 20 point lead for much of the second quarter, and once this was won the game got increasingly physical, with both sides playing with more edge. The Lions clearly wanted the win against the 10th placed side who have beaten them twice this year.
Mike DiNunno of the Phoenix finished the first half well scoring 13 points with his effortless release off the dribble which makes him a massive threat against any side. The Lions lead 60-42 at the half after playing some of the best basketball they’ve played all season.
The fouls had been an issue for the Lions all game and had conceded 11 in the first half and were up to 16 with 4:46 to play in the third. The Phoenix are a dangerous side at the stripe and rarely miss, which is something the Lions know all too well after their last game in London against Cheshire. The third started well for the Phoenix, scoring almost at will, especially with good link up play between Earl Brown Jr and Anderson under the rim.
When the Lions picked up the pace in the third they were able to match Cheshire in scoring, but the foul trouble, especially the four fouls on Hassan gave the visitors an extra bit of space on plays which they worked to exploit, with DiNunno telling May-Thompson to “get to the line bro”. Cheshire conceded two technical fouls in the quarter, one against Anderson for flopping (diving) and one against the bench for arguing a call. The Phoenix, despite the technical fouls, had the better of the play in third and had narrowed the score to 84-69 heading into the final quarter.
A Kai Williams three-pointer with 5 minutes to play in the final quarter forced the Phoenix into a timeout, with the Lions up 90-78. Up to that point the quarter had been an even affair with both sides taking and making shots. After the timeout, however, the Lions turned up the pace of the offence and up their effort on the defence to stretch the lead back out to around 20, as they found their range from 3 and Hassan came back into the game, to terrorise Cheshire in the paint.
In the duel of DiNunno vs Taylor, there was a clear victor, Taylor and the Lions got the win they feel they have been owed.
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