D1: Trailblazers incredible season comes to an end with semi-final defeat
Derby Trailblazers 69 (19, 30, 45)
Reading Rockets 72 (16, 31, 60)
NBL Men’s Division One
On a night when Derby Trailblazers needed to be at their best, their performance was sadly lacking, particularly during the third quarter, in which they were outscored 29-15, creating a fifteen-point deficit going into the final ten minutes.
Consequently, even a huge 24-12 fourth quarter fight-back couldn’t prevent a 69-72 defeat, thereby bringing a premature end to what has been a remarkable season.
Having begun the season with the primary aim of avoiding relegation and believing they might just scrape into the play-offs in eighth place, the Trailblazers finished second in the league and reached the semi-finals of both the Men’s National Cup and the Championship Play-Offs.
It was a phenomenal achievement, but it still left coaches, players and supporters wanting more and wondering what could have been.
David TinTin Watts led the Trailblazers efforts with eighteen points and six rebounds, while Chris Taylor added twelve points, Sydney Donaldson had nine and both Dan Watts and Oli Stanley added eight points. Dan Watts also pulled down ten points and dished off eight assists, while Stanley added eight rebounds.
The latter also pulled down ten boards, but it was Reading who dominated the rebounding 36-50, with the American duo of D’Montre Edwards and Antonio Robinson combining for twenty-four. At the offensive end of the court, both collected five rebounds each, with the Rockets netting fifteen second chance points to Derby’s three.
Head Coach Matt Shaw admitted it was a disappointing end to the season but felt his players had a lot to be proud of:
“We achieved more wins than we expected, made two semi finals and finished second in the league. By the end of the season, we had thirteen guys who had shown they could play at this level and at times it was hard to know who to play, because we had the kind of depth we really hadn’t expected.
“As far as Saturday's game was concerned, we gave up too many offensive boards and that was probably one of the telling factors. We were also only awarded seventeen free throws, which is a season low for us. The fact we only converted ten of those into points also didn't help,” he said.
Derby started the game with some promising form, as a three-pointer from Sydney Donaldson gave them an early 3-2 lead. Reading responded with five straight points, before a dunk from TinTin and a jump shot from Donaldson tied the scores at 7-7.
Rockets then went on a 7-1 run, but Derby concluded the first quarter with an 11-2 run, which featured another emphatic dunk from TinTin and a three-pointer from Taylor, who was providing his usual energetic spark off the bench.
All of that gave the Trailblazers a 19-16 advantage at the end of the first, despite not really having found their offensive rhythm.
Rockets began the second with seven straight points as Derby repeatedly missed shots and turned the ball over, but an 8-2 run saw the Trailblazers back in front at 27-25 with four first half minutes remaining. Derby further extended that lead with three of four free throws, but Reading hit the final four points of the second, to take a 30-31 lead into the break.
The third quarter was where it all went wrong for Derby. Their shots simply weren’t dropping and the visitors were having no such problems. The Rockets captain Danny Carter hit ten of the points in an 18-4 start, which not even two Blazers time-out could do little to dampen.
The second of those interventions did however prompt inside and outside scores for TinTin Watts via assists from his brother Dan and Barish Salih. However, Rockets struck straight back once again, with David Ajumobi converting from long range to spark another 0-5 burst, which helped them to take a 45-60 lead into the final period.
Derby’s best spell of the game came in those last ten minutes, but deep down, they probably knew they had left themselves too big a mountain to climb.
Adria Amabilino Perez provided a great spark off the bench, nailing a three-pointer and an inside score either side of a Taylor triple, as part of a 17-4 which cut the gap to just two points with 3’06” on the clock.
Another three-pointer from TinTin Watts tied the scores at 67-all, with 2’15” left and suddenly the unthinkable seemed possible. Donaldson had the chance to put Derby in front with 42 seconds left, but he couldn’t convert the bonus after scoring via an impressive offensive rebound.
The killer blow came as Rockets found a crucial buzzer beating score from Carter to lead 69-71, with less than twenty seconds remaining. Derby twice turned the ball over in those dying seconds, as well as losing David Watts to a fifth foul, from which D’Montre Edwards converted one of two at the line. It was a sorry end to a remarkable season:
“I guess the encouraging thing was that our guys battled hard and despite not playing that well, we still had a chance to win the game. Our come back in the fourth quarter was awesome, sparked by Barish [Salih] and Adria [Amabilino] who were numbers ten and twelve off the bench on the day,” Shaw said.
“The last minute was one we’d rather forget, being littered with missed assignments and turnovers. At the end of the day, it's a sport and things like this happen. What’s important is the lads must learn and use the frustration as motivation for the future,” he said.
Derby: David Watts 18, Taylor 12, Donaldson 9, Dan Watts 5, 8. Stanley 8, A. Amabilino Perez 5, Salih 4, King 3, B. Amabilino Perez 2, Calvey 0, Nelson 0, Wesselingh 0.
Reading: Edwards 23, Carter 22, Robinson 19, Ajumobi 5, Yeboah 3, Gomez de Enterria Lopez 0, Glass 0, Keeble 0, Nicholls 0, Sbai 0, Demba DNP, Rana DNP.
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A disappointing weekend also resulted in defeats for both the U18 Men and the U16 Boys, meaning the Trailblazers season is completely over for another year. The U18’s lost 87-72 away to Peckham Pride, while the U16’s lost 48-60 at home to Leicester Dynamite.
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