Manchester Giants made the short trip to Ellesmere Port to face off against North West rivals Cheshire Phoenix on Friday night, but they took a 103-99 loss on the road.
The second meeting of the two sides this season, the historic rivals now share the season series at one game apiece.
Ex-Giants men David Ulph, Jack Hudson and Commonwealth Games gold medallist Jamell Anderson were facing their former employers – the latter in the starting five for the hosts on the night.
It was the Phoenix who took no time to find their rhythm from beyond the arc, as a triple each from Cheshire trio Will Neighbour, Tahjai Teague and Larry Austin Jr. helped them build a commanding lead in the first four minutes of play.
Dirk Williams answered with a shot-clock beating three of his own to reduce the early Phoenix lead to single digits.
He swished another deep three to cut the Nix advantage down to six – his two makes were Giants’ only successful three point efforts from 11 attempts in the first half.
Williams was the star man in the Giants offence early on, and ended the quarter with nine points.
Anthony Roberson went coast to coast for an acrobatic layup to keep the pressure on the Nix with two minutes in the first quarter still to play.
But Coach Thomas’ men were clinical in transition, closing the first with nine points on the fastbreak and leading 32-19.
The high-octane pace of the game continued in the second quarter, as the Giants began to find their feet at the Ellesmere Port Sports Village.
Nevertheless, the imposing play of Phoenix center Neighbour was at times too much for the Giants defence to handle, as the hosts built a commanding half-time lead.
The break arrived with a mammoth gap between the sides at 62-39.
The relentless flow of the North West derby showed no signs of slowing down after the interval – but the Giants refused to back down, winning the third quarter 23-15 and battling on every possession to head into the final quarter with the scores at 77-62.
When Tajh Green grabbed a huge defensive rebound early in the fourth to set up a fast break score for the visitors, the belief in a Giants comeback was tangible on the court.
A second chance lay-up by Williams cut the lead to just 11 points – Phoenix’s smallest lead of the second half at that point.
And Vince Macaulay’s men kept the heat on till the very end with a flurry of threes – two from Williams and one from team captain Rahmon Fletcher – to narrow the hosts’ lead to just five with 40 seconds on the clock.
ABSOLUTE FRENZY IN CHESHIRE.
— Manchester Giants (@McrGiants) December 30, 2022
But Cheshire’s first half lead held firm and despite 37 final quarter points from the Giants, they were able to end their last game of 2022 with a narrow 103-99 win.
Williams ended with a sensational 32 points including an outstanding five three pointers made from eight attempts.
There were also double-doubles for Green – who ended the night with 24 points and 15 rebounds – and Roberson who put together a 14-point, 16 rebound performance.
For the Phoenix, center Will Neighbour led the scoring with 21 points as well as six assists.
Team captain and point guard Austin Jr. was also electric on the night, ending the game with 20 points, five rebounds and five assists.
There were lots of positives to take from a plucky fightback, but Coach Macaulay will no doubt be distraught that his side missed 11 of their 30 free throws in a four-point loss.
The Giants return to the National Basketball Performance on New Years’ Day for their 2023 debut – they will face Rahmon Fletcher’s former team, the Newcastle Eagles at 5pm.
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Words – Nathan Blackwood