The Leicester Riders beat the London Lions by a scoreline of 71-90 in the first leg of the BBL Playoff semi final to take a 19 point lead into the second leg on Sunday in Leicester.
The Leicester Riders had the better of the first quarter taking a 24-19 lead into the first intermission with several points from turnovers and at the line, with the Lions giving up 6 fouls. The highlight play of the first was Zaire Taylor, who started hot scoring 8 points, attacking the rim, missing a layup but burying his own rebound. The Riders went full court press early in the game to force turnovers and prevent the Lions guards getting into their rhythm.
The Riders went on an 11-2 run in the opening three minutes of the second quarter which pushed the visitors out to a 14 point lead. The Lions came back into the contest as they began playing the game with a lot more physicality and directness. The Lions clawed at the lead reducing it to 9 points with the Riders getting into foul trouble, with Taylor putting up points along with valuable contributions from Alex Owumi. Brandon Clark caused the Lions problems in the with his pace in the paint, slipping by his guard and scoring with relative ease. The Lions fought to keep the game close and went in at the half down 7 points, 40-47.
The Lions were unable to get significant points on the floor when without Navid Niktash or Rashad Hassan. Niktash only played 6:29 minutes in the first half, scoring one three-point shot and notching two fouls, which limited his minutes.
The Lions dominated the third quarter, with Niktash and Hassan back on the floor playing with energy and aggression forcing the issue for the Lions, dragging down rebounds and scoring points in the paint. Both sides found themselves in foul trouble as the referees were very whistle happy, and this in part helped the Riders maintain a lead through the third. The Riders showed their experience that took them to a league title by managing to score despite the relentless defensive and offensive effort from the Lions, with Brandon Clark and Pierre Hampton in particular scoring well.
Tempers flared midway through the third when Zaire Taylor took exemption to the tight defending from Shane Walker who got a technical foul for his part in the fracas which saw all players on the court getting involved.
The fourth quarter started well for the London Lions as they narrowed the gap to 3 points with some tight on-ball defending and a great three-point shot from the corner by Kai Williams. Niktash was forced to the bench after his fourth foul and without his presence, the Lions were on the back foot as the Riders pushed out to a 14 point lead out of nowhere. The Lions pushed the Riders hard to the end but the Riders, with their experience and guile, were able to extend their lead and slow the game down to a crawl to prevent the Lions narrowing the gap before the second leg on Sunday.
The Lions fans were amazing throughout the game in a packed Copper Box as the Lions gave their all to for their home fans for the final time this season. The Lions will get one more chance on Sunday evening to get to the Playoff Final, but they will have a mountain to climb after a strong performance from the Riders.