Manchester Giants welcomed the Leicester Riders back to the National Basketball Performance Center for the second time this season in a BBL Trophy first round clash, narrowly losing 107-114 in an overtime nail-biter.
There was a score to settle between the two teams who battled it out in an overtime classic back in December, with the Riders coming out on top 89-82 on that occasion.
Rahmon Fletcher got things underway with a beautiful finger roll off the glass for the Giants’ opening points of the game.
Jackson, Loving and Whelan then took turns to drain a three each as the visitors started red hot from beyond the arc.
Rob Paternostro’s men showed just why they are the current BBL Champions in a dominant first quarter performance that saw them take a 10-point lead at 18-28.
But the Giants refused to be pushed around on their home patch and with an eagle-eyed Nick Lewis steal into a fast-break layup, the lead was cut to just four at the midway point of the second.
The hosts had to contend with the hot hand of former NBA G-League forward Mark Loving, who led the game in scoring with 25 points at the half including an outstanding six three-pointers made on eight attempts.
The Giants would have the final say of the half though, as in classic Fletcher fashion the former BBL MVP carried the ball up the floor to set up Anthony Roberson for an easy layup on the buzzer to send the sides in at 46-50.
It was Dirk Williams’ turn to heat up coming out of the interval as last weekend’s top scorer added a pair of threes to make it a one-possession game.
Both teams battled hard to pull away from each other, but defensive stops mixed with sparkling offensive play made it an extremely tight affair.
And who other than team captain Fletcher would be on hand to dish the ball to Tajh Green in the post for an emphatic dunk to give the Giants their first lead of the night at 71-70.
The Giants and the Riders exchanged threes through Williams and Loving respectively, before a defensive stop by Macaulay’s men in the last possession of the third quarter sent the Belle Vue crowd into a frenzy with the scores at 76-78.
The final quarter got underway with the same intensity and excitement as the first three, with neither side able to pull clear of the other due to the fantastic offensive talent on show.
A foul by William Lee fighting hard for an offensive rebound sent Riders guard Kimbal Mackenzie to the line, before a physical and-one play by Green put the hosts ahead by one – it was anybody’s game with the men in green down by one at 90-91.
And when Riders big man Darien Nelson-Henry fouled out, it seemed that the Giants had a game-point advantage.
With just seconds to play, Fletcher isolated Mackenzie and drove hard at the basket, creating his own layup to tie the game at 99 points apiece.
The Riders guard was then blocked by Roberson off their timeout and we were going to overtime!
In the narrowest of finales, a pair of clutch free throws from Loving for his 31st and 32nd points of the game gave the Riders breathing room over Macaulay’s men, as they moved four points clear at 107-111.
And when Williams’ three-point shot missed with five seconds on the clock, it sealed the Riders victory.
Despite a massive 37-point, 14-rebound performance from Green, as well as double-digit scoring from all of the Giants starting five, the pedigree of Paternostro’s slick outfit proved too strong for the hosts.
The British champions now move onto a second-round match-up with the Sheffield Sharks after the Yorkshire club saw off the Thames Valley Cavaliers 98-66 earlier today.