The London Lions will take a 21 point lead into Glasgow on Sunday evening in the BBL Playoffs Quarter Final, after an incredible game of basketball in the Copper Box arena Friday night.
The London Lions started the first quarter like a team with something to prove. In the opening minutes, both sides were cagey and missing shots they would normally make with ease, but the homeside rushed into a 28 – 12 lead, thanks mainly to the inspired play of Zaire Taylor scoring 12 points from range and driving inside.
The Second quarter was dominated by the Glasgow Rocks 33-16 and they took a 44-45 lead into half time. The role reversal of the two sides was incredible, as the ice cold Rocks suddenly couldn’t miss, whereas the Lions lost their range with a few notable exceptions. Kai Williams had a good first half netting 11 points, including 3-5 from 3 point range. Navid Niktash struggled in the first half to find his range and his ordinarily excellent handles, finishing with 8 points and just 30% scoring.
The Rocks were lead in points by Lescault with 18, the guard draining his two three-point attempts and driving the lane the score at the rim. Glasgow excelled when they were able to get offensive movement leaving the London defenders trailing in their wake and rushing across to the corner to put a hand in the face of the open shooter.
The second quarter ended with a back and forth of one-upmanship from the two sides, each basket being responded to in kind, and the third quarter started with more of the same, with Niktash notching his tenth point with a putback layup.
The Lions were back in their first quarter rhythm in the third as Kai Williams made back to back three pointers from unforced Rocks turnovers, the first from a great Owumi pass the second a fake out on his defender which opened up all the room he needed. They rushed fought for a 9 point lead and maintained roughly that margin for the remainder of the quarter.
The Lions got themselves in foul trouble early in the third but calmed down as soon as they hit their fourth foul. Navid Niktash became a rebounding machine in the third quarter playing much better and a long 3 pointer forced a Rocks timeout with the lead back up to 9 points for the Lions. Lescault who had been red hot to end the second cooled in the third from the defensive pressure of Niktash, but Achara was still a big force inside for the Rocks, getting double and even triple teams and drawing fouls to keep the game close.
The first action of the fourth quarter was a wide open 3 missed by Matrakov for the Rocks, but a quick turnover saw him make amends at the rim, only for his effort to be answered with a corner three from Kai to take the lead back to 9 points. The Lions defensive effort and Kai Williams work from three-point range was the big story of the early going in the fourth. Andre Lockhart played excellent minutes in his role as the distributor and lock down defender as he stifled the Rocks point guards. His explosive pace dragging defenders with him, opening space for the big men to work and get the points.
Zaire Taylor continued his role as a one-man wrecking crew throwing himself at every lost cause and pulling down rebounds that were heading the three-point line, to great effect as all the Lions upped their effort and ferocity in the final period. The Lions got themselves a twenty point lead with 3 minutes to play in the ballgame as the Rocks moved to a full court press to try and close the lead for the home leg. Niktash had the dunk of the game at the death as he rose to dunk over Achara through massive contact.
After their second quarter meltdown, the Lions were much the better team with Taylor, Hassan, Williams and Owumi playing excellent basketball from the outset. Kai Williams had a vintage game on the big stage to finish with 27 points and gives the Lions a huge chance to make the semi-finals.
After the game, the players coaches were upbeat about the result but fully aware that it is only halftime in the contest. Alex Owumi said, “we feel very confident, we feel very good about today.” Talking about the series he continued, “Obviously, its a game of halves as it is an aggregate, so we can’t really get excited with the lead, we have to focus on the game on Sunday.”
There was a lot of discussion of the initial comeback from the Rocks, and how well the team responded. Assistant coach Laurent Irish on the changes for the second half “I think the adjustments we made…in the first half they were attacking our bigs and we adjusted for that, came out and you could see the difference.” Navid Niktash on the adjustments at the half “we tried not to gamble on the because they had a lot of good threes in the first half, ” and on his second half rebounding “It’s what I have to do, coach wants me to crash on boards every game.”
Kai Williams was the toast of the game from everyone, for his stellar shooting performance, but everyone acknowledged it was a team performance. Owner Vince Macalay said “everybody came with so many different things. Lockhart with his defence was massive. Rashad Hassan staying in the game with the third foul was massive for us, he was chasing Achara everywhere and challenging at the rim and that was massive for us. Vince and his staff have built this team with a singular focus as he pointed out “Everybody did their bit and that’s what this team was built for they can all do it, from an offensive standpoint it was Kai Williams with the dead eye.”
The London Lions are confident of getting the win in Glasgow on Sunday evening, but know there is plenty still to do. Zaire Taylor summed it up, “We gotta do what we gotta do and do what it takes to win. There’s no letting up.”