Cheshire Phoenix bounced back from Friday’s overtime defeat to Worcester with a dominant second half display over local rivals Manchester Giants, 104-95, on Sunday evening in front of a packed-out Northgate crowd.
Three players across both sides picked up 30 or more points on the night, but Phoenix came out on top to claim a 3-0 series over the Giants, thanks to better shot selection throughout and tougher defence after the half-time break.
From the get-go, Jeff Jones’ Giants seemed to have more focus, drive, determination and confidence with the ball – not afraid to shoot given the opportunity, and did so in fine fashion, racing to a ten-point lead midway through the first period thanks to James Jones and David Watts, but the door was left open for the ‘Nix to stay in touch, and Dominique Coleman made a big three before Reggie Middleton converted two attempts from the line to reduce Giants’ advantage to five at 18-23.
Cheshire initially struggled again in the second quarter to find any consistency, but soon kicked in to gear with Giants racking up the foul count, despite having a commanding 13-point game high lead. An 11-0 run from the Phoenix soon brought them back in to contention, as threes rained down inside the Arena. The Giants held firm, and took with them again a lead of five in to the half-time break at 48-53.
Coming out for the second half, Cheshire began to close down the threat being made from Manchester on the perimeter, and working harder to retrieve the boards. The defensive pressure was causing the Giants to crack with a 24-second shot clock violation – and in the next play another huge three from Coleman (one of seven on the night for the shooting guard) gave Phoenix their first lead of the game.
A huge turning point for Manchester came with the injury to Watts, who had been shooting the ball up until that time and slightly later, a period without the services of Rob Marsden.
Stefan Gill came in to the game which changed the intensity of their inside game for a brief period, but with Marsden out of the game, it allowed Donatas Visockis to step in to his own and dominate at both ends of the court. With less than ninety seconds in the third, Reggie Middleton went to work and tied the game at 77-77 with a three-point play to leave it all to play for in the last ten minutes.
Points were traded early in the fourth quarter, until Middleton nailed one from deep to stretch the Cheshire lead out to five points, but once more both sides went basket for basket, until Bailey pushed Phoenix out to seven points with three minutes remaining. The Giants made a late rally, but when Coleman hit his seventh trey of the night to send the home side in to triple figures, the game was effectively over as the seconds ticked down. Eventually the game finished up 104-95.
Coach Lavery gave plenty of credit to how his players took to the task of fighting their way back in the final two quarters: “We always knew it was going to be tough; Manchester are a talented team but we ground out the win. We talked at half-time that we’ve been in that situation before but we had to knuckle down and really play. They shot the ball great.
“Good teams don’t lose two on the bounce, so it’s pleasing to get the win after losing in overtime at Worcester.
“I’m proud of my guys tonight, the way they stayed in the game is a sign of how good a unit they are together.”
Giants head coach, Jeff Jones, felt it was again more of the curse of injuries that helped play a part in his side’s loss: “Watts and Marsden going out of the game disrupted our rhythm, but I felt we played well for thirty minutes of the game, as we have done the two times previous this season against them.
“It’s frustrating that we’re just not healthy; Mike Bernard is coming back, Callum [Jones] is coming back, but the guys have done a good job being competitive.”
- Sunday’s other BBL Championship game saw Durham Wildcats produce a shock victory over London Lions at the Copper Box Arena. A devastating final quarter by the visitors, to win out 83-72, helped make it back-to-back wins over the weekend for the North East side, lifting them up to eighth in the table.