D1: Trailblazers lose out at Reading, but clinch runners up spot
Reading Rockets 85 (16, 31, 59)
Derby Trailblazers 76 (21, 38, 51)
NBL Men’s Division One
After producing one of their best performances of the season to beat Manchester Magic the previous weekend, Derby Trailblazers were way short of their best as they suffered an 85-76 away defeat at the hands of Reading Rockets.
After a promising start, in which they led by as many as nine points midway through the second quarter, the bulk of Derby’s problems occurred in a disastrous third quarter, in which they were outscored 28-13 by the home side.
Despite the defeat, the Trailblazers 19-7 record was enough to see them finish the regular season as NBL Division One runners-up for the second season in succession. Rockets also finished with a 19-7 record, but finish third Derby’s home victory home by a margin of fifteen points meant they took the crucial head-to-head record.
Rockets victory pushed Hemel down into fourth place, while results elsewhere left four teams tied for fifth place, all with 16-10 records.
Of those, Essex Leopards and Lancashire Spinners both had 3-3 records against the other tied teams, meaning the aggregate score in the two games between the tied sides came into play. Remarkably, that was also identical; meaning the third tiebreaker, of overall points-difference in all league games was brought into play, resulting in priority being given to Essex Leopards.
That means Derby will be at home to seventh placed Lancashire Spinners in next week’s play-off quarter-final; Division One Champions Manchester are home to London Lituanica, while third placed Reading have home advantage against sixth placed Essex and the fourth versus fifth placed tie sees Hemel Storm at home to Team Northumbria.
The Trailblazers Head Coach Matt Shaw says Derby were hampered by the somewhat strange situation there were in, as they went into their final game:
“Knowing we only had to avoid defeat by sixteen or more points to seal second place was unusual and I think in the final quarter, we were guilty of playing with that in mind, rather than chasing the game to try and achieve the win.
“Consequently, I guess we’re pretty pleased with the outcome of the game, even though it would have been better to have won it outright.
“We played a strong first half but it was certainly the third quarter where we struggled. Given the situation I thought we did a good job to regroup and close out the game,” he said.
Derby were led by Chris Taylor, who finished on 23 points and David TinTin Watts, who was just shy of a double-double, on nineteen points and nine rebounds against his former club. Sydney Donaldson added ten points and six rebounds, while Adria Amabilino was the most creative player, dishing off six assists.
Rockets got off to a good start, netting from inside and out on their way to a 5-0 advantage, but the Blazers hit back, as TinTin Watts struck from downtown. George Calvey then marked his first start with an offensive put-back, before Donaldson bagged a steal and two points to set up a 5-7 lead.
Rockets replied with a second triple for Jordan Nicholls, before Derby went on a 9-nil burst to open up an 8-16 advantage. Taylor was instrumental in the run, netting four of the points and subsequently adding five more in the remainder of the quarter, despite Reading trimming the gap back to 16-21 by the first break.
After Donaldson opening the second quarter scoring with an offensive put-back, Rockets hit six straight points to close the gap to a single point. However, Derby responded well, with TinTin netting from inside and out. A basket from Barish Salish and a pair of free-throws from Brian Amabilino Perez completed a 9-1 run, to give the Blazers their biggest lead of the game, at 23-32.
Rockets called a time-out to halt the run, but could only trim two points off the deficit in the remaining four and a half minutes of the second quarter.
The Trailblazers once again stretched their lead to nine points early in the third period, but were then held scoreless for four minutes, as Rockets embarked on a 13-0 run, in which skipper Danny Carter scored eight of the points.
Dan Watts was then called for a bizarre technical foul, but Reading failed to capitalise, as D’Montre Edwards missed the free-throw and air-balled a three-point attempt on the resulting possession.
Taylor briefly tied the scores at 51-all after his third and final three-pointer of the game, but Rockets finished the period strongly, benefitting from an unsportsmanlike foul on Kayne King, as they closed the quarter on an 8-nil run, to lead 59-51.
As the game progressed through the final period, it became more and more apparent that Derby were playing to avoid losing by more than fifteen points, while Reading were battling to better that crucial margin. Back-to-back three-pointers saw them stretch their lead to 83-70, but that was as close as they could get to snatching second place away from the Trailblazers.
Derby eventually outscored Reading 6-2 over the game’s final two minutes, as baskets for TinTin Watts and Brian Amabilino were accompanied by a pair of free-throws from Chris Taylor, who sank one of two of consecutive visits to the charity stripe.
Despite failing to end the regular season with a win, Coach Shaw remained philosophical:
“To finish second in the league is a great achievement for this group of guys. We have a lot of young players who have progressed as the season gone. The way the older guys have helped those has been brilliant and I'm really proud of all our players.
“It's been a total squad effort, of course some guys have played more minutes, but we've started all thirteen players at some point, so going into the play offs we know we have a lot of different options to call upon.
“We’re hoping for another large and noisy crowd on Saturday. Our fans have been great this year and are one of the reasons we are 13-0 at home. We hope they can continue to help carry us through two more home games, as we push to reach the Championship Final,” he said.
Derby will face Lancashire Spinners in the quarter finals of the play-offs at 7:15pm on Saturday April 2nd at the Clarence Wiggins Sports Hall. Victory would set up a home semi-final tie against either Reading Rockets or Essex Leopards, to be played the following Saturday, April 9th.
Reading: Edwards 30, Carter 16, Yeboah 12, Robinson 10, Ajumobi 7, Nicholls 6, Glass 4, Keeble 0, Gomez 0.
Derby: Taylor 23, David Watts 19, Donaldson 10, B. Amabilino Perez 9, Calvey 5, Dan Watts 5, A. Amabilino Perez 2, Salih 2, Wesselingh 2, King 0.
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There were no other fixtures for Trailblazers development teams this weekend.
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