Ceremonial Jump ball before game #2

Lightning Win Puts The River Lions On The Brink

Roger Cumberbatch

How many of us remember being in playground scuffles as children?  Those of you who can jog the old memory banks back that far, relate to the feeling when the bully or enemy pushes you first.  An important decision will now have to be made on your part. Do I push back and fight, or keep my hands down, and eventually lose the fight?   Now, take that analogy over to sports. When a team loses in the playoffs, especially when the loss was a humiliating blowout loss, the losing side must make that same decision.  Fight back, and get back into the series, or take more losses and get eliminated from the playoffs? This is the quandary that the Niagara River Lions faced, prior to game #2 of their 1st round NBL Canada series against the London Lightning on Saturday night.  The 1st game of the series was a crushing loss by 36, and a loss in game #2 at Budweiser Gardens, would put the River Lions on the brink of elimination from the playoffs. The Lightning were relaxed, while Niagara looked focused, and determined to try and even up the series at 1 game a piece.  And try they did, the River Lions led for the entire 1st half, but could not contain the sleeping giants representing London for 4 quarters. The Lightning won game #2, 124-98, taking a stranglehold of the series. London will seek the series sweep of Niagara, on Tuesday night on the road.

There was a much different start to the 1st quarter of this game, as opposed to the previous game in this series.  The River Lions pounced on the Lightning right from the opening tip, with an 11-2 run. Niagara was aggressive and relentless with their attack on offense.  They were definitely sending their gracious hosts the message that they were going to take game #2 on Saturday, before heading back home to Niagara for game #3 Tuesday night.  The River Lions outscored the Lightning 33-26 in the opening quarter, shooting 47% from the field, while holding London’s explosive offense to 43% shooting from the field, and 13% from beyond the arc.  Message sent.

The Lightning appeared to wake from there early slumber, and close the margin between themselves and Niagara in the 2nd quarter.  London looked like the team from Friday night, and the regular season. The passes were now sharper, the cuts were more decisive, and most importantly, shots that were not falling in the 1st, were now beginning to go in.  The defense also played a role in breathing life into the Lightning, limiting the River Lions to only 14 points in the 2nd quarter. The air-tight at times defense of London, allowed a miniscule 32% shooting percentage from the field by their opponents, and not surrendering a single 3 pointer in the quarter.  The Budweiser Gardens crowd, was back cheering like they were in the pre-game introductions. Niagara Head Coach Joe Raso, tried to quell the onslaught against his team, by calling a timeout, but the snowball was set in motion down the hill. Raso’s River Lions still led at halftime, but only by the score of 47-44.  

The game was blown open in the 3rd by the Lightning, who needed to put up 40 points on the board, before they would see their 1st lead of the game.  London led Niagara 84-72 after 3 quarters, and like sharks when there is blood in the water, the end is near for whoever is in there sights. The lead ballooned to over 20 at times in the 4th quarter, when the Lightning’s active hands, led to fast break chances, transition 3’s, and easy paths to the basket.  London put up another 40 points in the 4th, sending a message of their own heading to Niagara for game #3. 124-98 was the final score for the Lightning, who received monster nights from Garrett Williamson and his 26 points, Royce White, who scored 24 points, and Mo Bolden’s 19 points, and 12 boards. There was also another balanced attack by London, as 6 players had double digit nights on Saturday. An interesting side note to this series, was that the teams did not exchange hand shakes after the game.  What does that mean for the atmosphere for game #3? 

The River Lions got punched in the mouth on Friday night, losing that game 151-115.  Saturday, Niagara hit the Lightning, hard at times, not giving up the lead until well into the 3rd quarter.  Then, the white towel should have been thrown in because Coach Joe Raso’s River Lions, came out of the locker room after leading for the 1st half of the game, and let London score 80 2nd half points against them.  That is not a team that wants to fight back and win this series. Game #3 of the series goes on Tuesday night in Niagara at the Meridian Centre, with a 7pm jump ball start time. For there to be any hope of staving off of elimination, especially at home for Niagara, they had better keep their hands and heads up for the full 4 quarters, or literally they will get knocked out in the 1st round.