They say (whoever “they” are) that sometimes it’s better to be lucky than to be good, but under the yellow lights of Chester’s Northgate Arena last night the Rocks were neither.
Minus EJ – rested as a precaution over a minor knee injury sustained against the Riders that they didn’t want to risk on the unforgiving Northgate floor – but with a small, relentless regiment of Sterling’s Blue & White Army in tow, the team put in a hard working but frustrating evening of play to let the Phoenix catch them on points in the BBL Championship table.
Poor shooting (39% FG, 26% 3PT) and giving up too many shooting fouls (including twice fouling a three point shooter) will be what the stats show was the difference between the sides, but the truth is there was more to it than that; to coin another sporting metaphor the team never had the rub of the green all night, save for a brief spell at the start of the 3rd.
Brice – starting in place of EJ – had arguably his best performance of the season, knocking down 3/5 from range on his way to 14 points, while also racking up a team-high 5 assists. He was one of the few shining lights and the catalyst for much of the offence, but the experience of EJ was clearly missing in the clutch as Brice’s performance in the final minute totaled two turnovers and a technical as we let the game get away.
Rebounding was a huge issue for the team against Leicester, and it was heartening to see us win the battle of the boards in this game 44-38, including 18 offensive. But our lack of size in the paint and the great defensive display of Alif Bland for Cheshire meant that much of the offense had to come from outside, and when you’re not knocking down jump shots then things start to stall a little.
The Rocks’ performance shows no disrespect to the Phoenix – they played some great team basketball at times and clearly have some talented players. Chez Marks wasn’t the focal point as much as expected, but he stepped up when it mattered and hit some big shots on his way to 27pts. Jerome Gumbs spun in the paint like a Tasmanian Devil to take advantage of our lack of a bona fide shot blocker on his way to 24pts.
The guys are clearly still figuring things out at both ends of the court post-Achara, but this weekend’s double-header against the Sharks and Tigers could prove to be a huge one in terms of getting the season back on track. With both those teams struggling for form this is a great opportunity to put some breathing room between ourselves and our rivals, and get back to that “winning habit” that coach Davis often talks about.
Sometimes you’re good and sometimes you’re lucky, and right now I’d settle for either of those this weekend.
Duane uses too many commas, something he is acutely aware of. He enjoyed his trip to Chester despite the result – it’s a lovely place.