For the London Lions, the arithmetic is simple, win by 20. Their task could not be any harder, win by 20. The prize could not be any greater, A shot at the Championship.
The Leicester Riders can afford to lose today’s game but don’t tell Coach Rob that. He is sending his players out there to win tonight and win big to send the Riders’ home fans into the summer with a win.
The Lions have played the Riders tough all season and know they’ve had a 14 point win having led by 20 away in Leicester earlier in the year and this gives them confidence that they can make it to the o2.
Friday night was a hard game for the Lions. They entered looking a little tense and their shot was off early, and it remained off, shooting an awful 22% from three point range. They can take confidence though, from the looks the Riders gave them but they just couldn’t execute. The Riders can be a streaky team for a Champion, scoring in runs and missing in runs but the Lions do not have this luxury, they need to make shots.
Every missed shot tonight will be a dagger in the heart to their final chances, especially if the Riders score on the next possession, which is what killed the Lions on Friday night. The Riders seemingly couldn’t stop scoring, finishing with 90 points. Brandon Clark and Connor Washington looked unstoppable as they attacked the rim weaving through the land of the giants to score easy baskets.
Zaire Taylor acknowledged Friday night that he needed to share the ball more and get the likes of Rashad Hassan (14 points on Friday) into the game more on the offensive end. If the Lions play the high tempo team basketball that got them to this point they have a chance.
Vince Macaulay after the game stated that the key factor the Lions need to change for Sunday is their intensity. The Lions played with intensity in the second quarter when they decided that they were going to get the basketball either around the Riders’ guard or through them, and it got results.
The Riders shot an excellent 40 percent from 3 points and scored 40 points in the paint (2 fewer than the Lions) but it was their bench who made the biggest impact scoring 36 points. The Lions bench contributed just 4 points which were not nearly enough. The Lions bench, who see significant minutes against the deepest team in the country must contribute on the offence as well as they contribute on the defensive end.
The key for the Lions will be to play with the same intensity they played in the second quarter from Friday night, making it to the rim whatever way they need to. Their three point shooting, which they have depended on all season must improve if they have another ice cold performance like on Friday they can say goodbye to a hope of making it to the o2. Zaire Taylor must bring his bigs into the game much more for easier baskets in the paint, where the Lions have the potential of being stronger.
The key for the Riders will be to keep doing what they did well Friday night, get to the basket, cause holes with their ball movement and keep drawing soft fouls to get to the line. The Riders are the experts at getting close calls their way and their excellent free throw shooting will punish the Lions if they’re not disciplined.
The Lions need to play the game in 5 minutes segments, chipping away at the Riders’ lead. It won’t be easy, but if the Lions start the game strong and can go on a scoring run they stand a chance of getting by the Riders. I can see the Riders having just enough to see them through, but the Lions will take it to the wire.