The weekend results saw London Lions end up with a second place BBL finish for the first time in their history with an 85-91 victory in Cheshire.
The Lions were in Cheshire to take on the Phoenix in a game that, thanks to the earlier Scorchers result meant they would finish in second place courtesy of the head to head versus rivals Newcastle, however Lions wanted to be clear of the tie and also head for revenge against the side that denied them a place in the BBL Cup earlier in the season.
The Lions survived a second half scare, largely thanks to a brilliant performance from Justin Robinson who netted 25 points and dominated the closing minutes of the game.
It was a much closer game throughout than the league positions would suggest, with Orlan Jackman frustrating the Lions defence early and finishing with 23 points.
It was a tight start to the game, with CJ Gettys and Jackman teaming up to prevent the Lions going on any kind of run. With just four seconds left in the quarter, Robinson made his way through the defenders to get two points and snatch a one point lead – 25-26.
With the second quarter underway it was back at it for both sides, with Cheshire taking back the lead and then Cory Dixon getting it back for the Lions. Things got a bit scrappy then, as both sides fell victims to bad passes and missed shots. But Joe Ikhinmwin kept fighting, setting up his teammates to nail in the shots. But Gettys and Jackman just wouldn’t let up and things remained pretty even until Andre Lockhart forced the issue, first through assisting Dixon to go to the line and then drawing the foul himself while making the three point shot.
He made all three to give the Lions a five point lead with 40 seconds left in the half. Jon Thompson made the most of a slip up in the Phoenix offence to get another two points with just 17 seconds left, before Cheshire were given two free throws in the final ten seconds to bring the Lions lead down to five.
Jackman on 14 and Getty’s on 18 were the keys for Cheshire. The third quarter will be one the Lions will probably want to forget, as it saw that five point lead turned around into a one point advantage for the home side. Things started well, with five quick points from Robinson taking London’s lead to double digits. A second three from Robinson just moments later helped keep the score there with a minute and a half gone in the second half.
Five unanswered points later, and the lead had shrunk to five. A Dixon tip in held the situation, before Cheshire went on a 6-0 run. Robinson was there with the two point lay up to keep the Lions ahead, but only for a matter of seconds before Cheshire grabbed the lead with just under two minutes of quarter three left.
We were back to scrappy play, with both sides trying to keep hold of the lead. But neither really could and Cheshire made their last shot of the quarter to take it to 69-68.
Things were about to get much worse for the Lions as an early foul and subsequent technical put Cheshire up by four. With a couple of minutes gone, that lead was seven.
Robinson stepped up and immediately set about reducing that lead. Two of his own free throws landed, reducing the lead to five before a sweet three points made it two. He kept marshalling, with Thompson bringing the sides level with just under five minutes left in the game.
The Lions kept at it and, with just under two minutes left in the game, in came Dixon and Guede off the bench, Dixon made the jump shot to give the Lions the lead. Paul Guede made it a three point lead shortly after as both players hit 9 points between them and Cheshire seemed to lose their heads. A timeout was called, but it didn’t help and the Phoenix wouldn’t score again in the game.
They set about fouling to try and get possession, but Guede made three of four of his attempts to take the score to 85-91. Jackman and Getty’s were stopped, the former just shooting at the basket from anywhere on the court, but to no avail. The Lions took the game and could celebrate second place and the end of the regular season with a win.
The Lions now face Worcester in the playoffs starting next weekend. As the Lions finished higher in the league, they have the advantage of playing their home leg second. The first leg will be in Worcester on Friday night, with the return fixture at the Copper Box on Sunday. Tip off will be at 4pm.
Tickets are available for the home leg at ticketmaster.co.uk
(Report; P. Groves, Pic G. Hodges)
Lions Scorers; Robinson 25, Dixon 16, Guede 13, Peel 11, Thompson 9, Ikhinmwin 8, Larkai 4, Lockhart 3, Okoro 2, Roberts 0, Ekperuoh
Phoenix Scorers; Getty’s 23, Jackman 23, May-Thompson 14