The Sheffield Sharks recorded their first victory of the season against the London Lions, with star debutant Antwon Lillard registering a 21-point double-double, on his birthday, as the Sharks pulled away in the fourth quarter.
Lillard, now 25, seemed to be the deciding factor on both ends of the court, with his defensive intensity shaking the Lions' offensive system towards the end of the game, finishing with four steals.
Although Lillard stole the show with both his offensive and defensive output, it was fellow debutant Kipper Nichols, who joined the team from Illinois University, that spearheaded the Sharks comeback.
The 6'6" Ohio forward put on a clinic from two-point range, hitting all 14 of his bench points in a timely manner to swing the momentum back into the Sharks favour.
Story of the game
From the outside looking in it would appear that the prolonged period away from basketball had an adverse effect on both teams, with only four shots being made in the first three minutes.
DeAndre Liggins started looking for his jump shot early as he drained back to back threes in the first, building on from his impressive debut against the Newcastle Eagles and looking equally impressive tonight.
The Lions would end the first quarter ahead 19-18 as a Kevin Ware missed layup forced Jodhe Campbell to chuck a shot up from his own half with time expiring.
Andre Lockhart would put the Lions in the driving seat to start the second quarter with an and one, sinking the free throw and giving the Lions momentum to build on.
Moments later, Edmir Lucas would do just that as he notched his only three of the game, putting the Lions up by seven. Lillard returned fire with a triple of his own, cutting the deficit to a slim 4 points.
It would be Dirk Williams, a former Shark, that would announce himself to Lions by putting on a dazzling display of shooting, entering the second quarter with 5:22 to play and finishing the quarter with all seven of his total points, rounding the half off at a 34-39 Lions lead.
The third quarter of play became a defensive clinic from the Sharks, holding the lions to seven points all quarter - all coming from Liggins as he attempted to rally his troops who now entered the fourth with only a 45-46 lead.
To begin the fourth quarter Antwon Lillard blitzed down the court and shot a two-point shot with conviction to give Sheffield a 47-46 lead.
It would take up until the 7:52 mark for the Lions to respond as Kevin Ware started to attack the rim with aggression, drawing a foul and making a pair at the line to put the game back in the Lions control.
A quality pass by Liggins sets up Kevin Ware in the corner for the @London_Lions who drills the three as he moves onto seven in the first half #BritishBasketball— British Basketball League (@BBLofficial) November 6, 2020
Watch Here: https://t.co/1iXnJS0qkx pic.twitter.com/vprs0fnApc
As the game progressed and as shots still crashed hard off the rim, the reason behind such a low scoring game became clear - the swarming defensive schemes laid out by the coaches, and the intensity with which they were carried out by the players simply forced the offensive team into some poor shot selections.
With the game hanging in the balance and both teams starting to look fatigued with such tight perimeter defence, the game looked as though it would be decided by the first big momentum gaining three.
The very rare sighting of a three would come for the Sharks as Mackey McKnight drilled a step-back right in the eye of his defender as the shot clock dwindled down, giving the Sharks the lead and the opportunity for them to pull away.
Kipper Nichols would start to bring the game home for the Sharks, showing the soft touch that he possesses around the basket and the ability he has to finish in traffic.
With 4:19 left in the ball game, Nichols would once again drive right and be clattered in the lane, splitting the free throws and putting some daylight between the two teams.
As the Lions still struggled to find a basket with 3:06 left in the fourth, fan favourite Nick Lewis would rise up from three and sink the dagger for the Sharks, making it the first double-digit game all night and closing the book on any chance of a Lions comeback.
What a huge moment for the Sharks as Nick Lewis drills the three and is fouled in the process! A double digit lead for the hosts now #BritishBasketball— British Basketball League (@BBLofficial) November 6, 2020
Watch Here: https://t.co/1iXnJS0qkx pic.twitter.com/0fUO396AJN
The London Lions are now 0-2 to start the season after a game-tying buzzer-beater cost them in their last game against the Newcastle Eagles.
This will arouse frustration among Lions fans, not least because they would have started the season at 2-0 if not for their late-game capitulations – food for thought for Coach Vince Macauley.
Player of the game: Antwon Lillard
Birthday messages will be flying in from Sharks fans everywhere as guard Antwon Lillard looked to be a step ahead of everyone on his debut today, recording an impressive 21 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists and 4 steals. A player that looks set to impress this season.