Featured image credit: Carol J Moir
The London Lions punched their ticket for the BBL Playoff Semi-Finals with a 179-174 aggregate victory over the Worcester Wolves. The Lions defeated the Wolves 94-90 in double overtime at the Copper Box Arena on Sunday afternoon.
The second seed London Lions entered their home leg of the 2018 Playoff Quarter Final against the seventh seed Worcester Wolves holding a one-point advantage thanks to their 85-84 win on the road on Friday night.
Wolves started the game the better of the two sides as they opened up with 10 points against a Lions side struggling to get open looks. Vince Macaulay’s team was forced into an early time-out to stop the bleeding. The time-out sparked a resurgence in the Lions as they would go on a 10-2 scoring run of their own, led by the scoring of Cory Dixon to tie the game at 12.
The Lions took the lead for the first time thanks to a baseline jumper from Jerelle Okoro which forced Paul James to call a timeout of his own.
The refs were calling the game like a playoff game, allowing more contact than is usual in a BBL contest, but the game wasn’t without skill, a monster one-handed jam from Jon Thompson to make it 18-14 at the end of the first. Worcester had their own highlight reel play, an alley-oop jam finished by Robert Gilchrist after the lob pass from Alejandro Navas.
The second quarter was contested at a breakneck pace, all players on the floor giving their all to get the basketball. The Lions built a small cushion but a breakout of great shooting and a two-handed jam from Palmer gave the Wolves a one-point lead on the day before the captain Navajas gave his side a lead in the tie as the Lions headed into foul trouble.
Lions rallied once more with a good scoring run from Dixon and Larkai, the two mid-season additions coming good once again for London as they took a four-point lead in the contest to force James into his final timeout of the half. Lions headed into the halftime break with a five-point lead in the game and second points on aggregate thanks to a buzzer-beating jumper from Brandon Peel.
The third quarter was played at the same frenetic pace as the two that proceeded it, but with a lack of discipline from the Wolves who got themselves into foul trouble midway through the quarter which cost them dearly.
The visitors had scrapped and ground their way to a two-point 51-53 advantage which was extinguished by Justin Robinson on the very next play. Robinson sank a corner three and was fouled on his way up and he made no mistake on the four-point play. The Lions capitalised on a three-point play the next trip up the floor with Dixon once again finishing through contact and sinking the and-one.
The hosts entered the final term up by one point in the game and two points overall thanks to a fantastic late defensive stand by the Lions. Dixon, who was dominant all game long for the Lions, opened the quarter four scoring and captain Ikhimwin added two more points on the next play. Dallin Bachinski tied things up with a three-pointer from the top of the arc but his opposite number Peel got two points right back as the two sides battled for their spot in the semi-finals.
Worcester, down one, took the ball up the floor with one minute on the clock. After missing their first effort Beamon was fouled shooting a three-pointer and made no mistake from the line punishing the Lions and giving his side the one point aggregate lead. An uncharacteristic mistake from Thompson gifted possession back to the Wolves and Beamon drove to the basket to make it a four-point ball game with exactly 24 seconds on the clock and silence the Copper Box Arena.
On the play out of the timeout, Guede drove to the basket and was fouled on his way up being sent to the line to shoot two. Despite the loud away support he drained them both to make it a one-point aggregate deficit as James called timeout.
With no fouls to give Brandon Peel caught Mike Ojo and sent him to the line to shoot two free throws making them both giving his side a four-point lead in the match. Captain Joe Ikhinmwin, with the season on the line, drained a three-pointer to make it a 78-79 ball game sending the tie to overtime.
Paul Guede made the first two baskets of overtime, a long two and a corner three to give the Lions an early advantage but Bachinski and Palmer would keep the Wolves in touch.
London defended as hard as they have all season keeping the Wolves at bay but it wasn’t enough to stop an explosive spin move from Beamon to bring Wolves to within two points in the tie. Beamon would draw the teams level at the line on the next play. The Wolves had the final possession but could not convert as the tie went into double overtime.
The second overtime period was just as back and forth as the whole game had been. Stellar defensive work from the Lions saw Peel strip Bachinski of the ball and Robinson took full advantage scoring on the fast break opportunity. Beamon got those points right back as he stole the ball from Robinson and scored on the fast break himself. Mike Ojo was fouled on his way up with 33 seconds left in overtime but he only made one of two in the deafeningly loud arena.
Robinson had the chance to put the tie to bed from the line and made no mistake sinking two to give the Lions a three-point advantage on aggregate. The Wolves knew only a three would keep the game alive but Thompson blocked the three attempt of Marshall and when Robinson was fouled heading up the floor the Lions crowd knew it was time to party, the Lions had made their way to the semi-finals.
Beamon reflected on the loss postgame, “It hurts man, this feeling never gets comfortable. We’ve got a great group of guys, I’m proud of them. We fought our hearts out, it just didn’t come out the way we wanted it to.”
Lions head coach and owner Vince Macaulay was “Very pleased [with the win]. We felt that Worcester was the toughest draw in the quarterfinals. The biggest thing was we stopped their bigs over the two games and we tried to get a blanket on their guards. We respect that team and just pleased to get over the hump.”
Brandon Peel summed up the mood amongst the Lions camp best. “Worcester really gave us a fight… but we pulled it out and we’re moving on up. The captain said ‘We’re not going home just yet’ and he took us home.”