The BBL Championship play-offs come to the Emirates Arena for the first time on Sunday as Glasgow Rocks host Marjon Plymouth Raiders in the quarter-finals first leg.
The teams are due to meet at Plymouth Pavilions in the second leg on Monday evening and the aggregate winner over the two legs will progress to the last four, with the final scheduled for Sunday April 28 at Wembley Arena.
The Rocks won three of their final four regular season games to finish third in the Championship table with a 21-12 record, edging Surrey Heat out on the head-to-head decider. Meanwhile, injury problems cost Raiders down the stretch as they lost their final four games to finish in sixth spot with 19 wins from their 33 games.
The Rocks won the season series with Raiders 2-1, with home court advantage hardly being evident. Sterling Davis’ team won 97-84 in the West Country in November before Raiders won 97-69 on the road in January to level the series. However, they couldn’t repeat the trick in February as Rocks won 94-84 in Glasgow.
Rocks’ player-coach Sterling Davis has a good idea what his side has to progress to the play-off semi-finals: “I was pleased with our execution in our last meeting versus the Raiders. We came in the game with a plan and followed it. We played one of our better defensive games in that game and kept our aggression the entire game.”
Davis knows which Raiders’ player his team need to stop: “We will have to slow down Mike Ojo. We know he will get his attempts but we have to make sure they are challenged at all times.”
Davis is pleased that his side managed to seal third spot in the final BBL Championship standings: “I think it was good for our group. Considering how things have been somewhat inconsistent for us this season, our guys have done a great job of turning things around.”
Raiders’ coach Gavin Love rates the Scottish side highly: “The Rocks have had a very solid year and have some excellent talent on their roster. They are a well-coached side and we know what to expect from them and they know what we bring to the table so I’m looking forward to a very competitive quarter final. Donald Robinson has had an outstanding rookie year and EJ Harrison is the glue to that team but they have so many guys that can have big games you must guard them as a unit.
“We had a solid game against the Rocks last time we met but didn’t make big shots. It comes down to be mentally focused and executing your game plan, the team that makes the least mistakes will win this tie.”
Love admits that he thought his team deserved to finish higher than sixth: “Of course I’m disappointed with sixth place, but we have been a third or fourth place team the entire season and with the injury issues and the amount of games we had to play in a short period with a depleted roster its cost us.
“Ultimately though it doesn’t matter now, it’s a new season and anyone could win the final trophy up for grabs and I expect the playoffs this year to be as unpredictable and exciting as they have ever been.”
Raiders continue to struggle with injury problems, but Love isn’t looking for excuses: “We are far from healthy but we have one more week to get some rest and prepare so I’m sure we will be ready.”
Raiders’ guard Drew Lasker was clearly disappointed that he missed out on last week’s games: “It was pretty frustrating watching us battle with only four fit guys, but it is what it is. My hamstring’s better than last week, and I’m having plenty of rehab. We have some great physios but it’s an injury you have to respect. You have to give it time or it’ll just go again.”
Lasker is ready for two tough games against the Rocks: “We’ve played them three times and lost the series 2-1. The last two were in Glasgow and we travelled up there for one with only six men and won by 30, then we lost by ten in the next one. But every time we’ve played them we’ve had a different roster, so those games are irrelevant.
“Our main concern is getting everyone healthy as we have a lot of guys who are banged up. We showed at Newcastle a couple of weeks ago that with a healthy squad we can play really well. If everyone’s fit, I believe we can win.”
“They don’t really have a stand-out guy. Every time you look at the box stats, a different player has led them. The rookie [Donald] Robinson has been really explosive against us, and EJ [Harrison] has been doing his stuff for a long time now. Last time Sterling [Davis] gave us fits, so it’s always someone different. We have to contain everyone, if we concentrate on those three, Gareth Murray can have a big game.
“Our main game-plan is to the stop the three-ball as they really feed off of that. They can swing the ball around, so if we stop that and keep them off the boards, we’ll be okay. When we get them in the open court, we do well against them.
Rocks’ guard/forward Andrew Wedemire rates the Raiders highly: “I know they are a very good and well coached team. They have a lot of good players – especially Colin O’Reilly and Matt Schneck – who can step up at any time.”
It’s time to rise.