Raiders repeat bad habits in worrying loss to hot Rocks
PLYMOUTH RAIDERS...84 GLASGOW ROCKS...97
OH DEAR. Marjon Plymouth Raiders need to find some energy from somewhere, otherwise Newcastle Eagles could eat them alive in the BBL Cup semi-finals this Sunday.
Raiders played lethargic basketball for the second game on the bounce at home, gave themselves an uphill struggle against another solid team and ultimately failed to dig themselves out of trouble.
It wasn't good enough. Nowhere near.
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If Raiders want to be average this season, meander along in mid-table and exit the BBL's three knockout competitions quietly, fine – they're bang on track.
But after coming so close last season, to ending a five-year wait for a second BBL title in Raiders' proud history, it would be a miserable step back under coach Gavin Love and chairman Bob Widdecombe, who together have done a wonderful job in the last 24 months propelling the club forward.
An upset Love said following Saturday's final buzzer at the Pavilions against Glasgow Rocks: "Decisions win and lose you basketball games and right now we haven't got anybody on the floor who takes charge and makes good decisions.
"I don't think I've ever been more frustrated as a coach. We've lost two games like that now. We had no energy whatsoever. In the first half it was embarrassing."
Raiders guard Drew Lasker, who turns 30 tomorrow and has seen it all before at the Pavilions and was part of the team who lifted the BBL Trophy in 2007, said: "In this league you have to play. Just because we step out on the floor with the green kit on doesn't mean anything. We have to beat people. Glasgow got hot and just outclassed us."
Raiders trailed Rocks by as many as 15 points, 64-49 in the middle of the third quarter before clawing their way back within as few as two, 66-64 near the end of the penultimate frame.
Rocks rebuilt their lead to 10, 74-64 early in the fourth before Raiders had a second run at Sterling Davis' visitors and cut the deficit to three, 79-76 inside the final five minutes.
Then came the turning point.
Raiders centre Matt Schneck showed great, trademark hustle and forced a Rocks turnover. Raiders ball.
His team-mates raced up the floor like wide-receivers in American football, waiting to collect the pass which would surely give them an easy lay-up against a Rocks defence suddenly off-guard and make it a one-point game, 79-78.
Three Raiders receivers set off up the right wing. One went left. Schneck foolishly went left and Rocks forward Gareth Murray picked off the pass and relished an uncontested dunk going the other way.
That made it 81-76 and sparked a 6-0, mini Rocks streak which sealed the win.
It was cruel on Schneck, who, in my opinion, alongside guard Michael Ojo, was Raiders' best player by a street.
"Matt's one guy I would never criticise," said Love. "He had a slight concussion tonight, but he plays his backside off.
"Yes, that was probably the turning point, but there were many others. We still had plenty of time."
Love, whose team next visit Sheffield Sharks in the league this Friday before Sunday's cup semi-final first leg at the Pavilions, added: "In the second half the energy was there and it was good.
"It's just bad decision making and I'm really upset with that. We're not going to win close games like that. We need a leader on the floor."
Lasker said: "We spent a lot of time chasing the game. The last four or five games, we've been starting so slowly. For whatever reason, we come out lethargic. Maybe we're over confident.
"We've got to change our approach. Maybe we have to go harder in warm-ups and get a sweat on, because we're just out there in the game relaxing.
"Something has to change. We've got two losses at home now and this is supposed to be a fortress for us."
Saturday was the first time Raiders had lost back-to-back home games under Love, who was appointed coach in the summer of 2010.
The last time Raiders lost back-to-back at home was immediately prior to Love's appointment in April 2010.
Like the 95-78 defeat against Surrey Heat at the Pavilions three weeks ago, Raiders lacked legitimate bite defensively and allowed the visitors to control the tempo with their offence.
Raiders subsequently struggled with their own half-court offence (when they walk the ball up the floor against a defence patiently awaiting them in formation), showing little ball movement and settling for low-percentage shots from long-range.
Rocks led for good on a 17-5 run, which built a 23-15 lead late in the first quarter.
Rocks' Great Britain centre Kieron Achara sparked it with a big three from behind the top of the arc before team-mate and guard Donald Robinson drove too easily to Raiders' basket and converted a lay-up.
Murray grabbed an offensive rebound inside and scored a second-chance basket; Achara hit another huge three from the left arc and then added a bucket in transition.
Rocks guard Brice Fantazia next scored in transition and finally Robinson, wide open, drilled a three from the right arc to cap the tear. Raiders were chasing shadows.
"Our game-plan was to come out and attack, offensively and defensively," revealed Lasker afterwards. "For some reason we waited until we were down by 10 points to pick them up full-court on defence.
"It's too late then. You've allowed a team like Glasgow to get confident and then they're making shots – they're not missing."
Raiders were undermanned and unlucky to lose narrowly 83-80 at leaders Leicester Riders last weekend.
Love said: "Last weekend we played really well, but today we were all over the place. The one thing you should always have is energy.
"I don't care if you shoot the ball badly, that's life, but there were guys who simply didn't turn up for us. You have to play every game like it's your last."
Rocks' lead was up to 14, 44-30 in the middle of the second before Raiders – with their ears still ringing from Love angrily laying into them during a time-out – finally played with real desire and real purpose.
Schneck converted a hook shot inside to trigger a 9-0 rally; rookie forward Javarris Barnett buried a big three from deep on the left wing; and Lasker alertly intercepted a Rocks pass in mid-court and scored an uncontested lay-up to make it 44-37.
Raiders forward Colin O'Reilly capped the run with a basket inside after forward Jamal Williams, on defence, had hounded Achara into committing a rare turnover.
Finally. This was what Raiders fans had looked forward to all week and paid good money to see.
Then Raiders switched off, allowing Rocks to cheaply rebuild the gap to 10, 49-39 at the half-time break.
"We had so many opportunities to win, I was tearing my hair out," said Love. "It was just dumb play after dumb play from us.
"Then there were moments when we calmed down, executed and looked pretty good. But it's common sense stuff – when things are going well, keep doing what you're doing."
Love added of his players Saturday night: "We need people who care. All my guys this year are good guys, but we need to step up. We're 5-3 now and that's not good. In previous years that might have been alright, but this year we're trying to push on."
Positives? Barnett, who I have been critical of this season, is starting to look more comfortable and play with more belief and more fire.
Barnett, at least, realised Raiders were never going to win a spectacular shoot-out on Saturday and aggressively attacked the Rocks basket in the second half.
He once span inside and finished at the rim beautifully before catching a friend's eye in the crowd and glaring up with intimidating intent. It was a great moment.
But Raiders have to produce such passion for nearly 40 minutes if they are to get the job done against the BBL's top teams in 2012/13 – flashes aren't going to cut it.
And I'm not blaming Barnett. He was one of Raiders' stronger players after half-time on Saturday.
Rocks' win was founded on 31 first half points, on 11/13 shooting from Achara and Robinson.
If a better player than Achara has performed at the Pavilions against Raiders, since they joined the BBL in 2004, I'm not sure I've seen him.
Achara finished 9/11 from the floor and one of those misses was a three he would rather have not taken in the dying moments when the contest was long won.
Off the top of my head, perhaps Brighton Bears guard Cheyne Gadson back in 2004/05 was in Achara's class.
But then Gadson, who played in the NBA Development League, had a DeAntoine Beasley, at the peak of his powers, harassing him on defence all afternoon that Sunday Raiders upset then powerhouse Bears.
No-one, except Williams on that one occasion, really ruffled Achara on Saturday. The bigger crime is no-one tried.
Lasker said: "Kieron Achara showed his class. He's definitely a very good player and an international for a reason. He has size but then he's so versatile with it. It was a tough match-up for us."
Lasker added: "Donald Robinson came out with a lot of energy. I think he set the tone for Glasgow and they just fed off that. That's what you need. One guy can instil confidence in the whole team. That's what Robinson did tonight for them."
Scorers: Raiders: Ojo 22 points (8/16 field-goals), Schneck 16 (8/13), Barnett 16 (5/13), O'Reilly 13 (6/12), Bell 12 (3/13), Lasker 3 (1/3), Potter (0/2), Williams 0 (0/0), Hall DNP; Glasgow: Achara 23 (9/11), Robinson 17 (5/9), Murray 15 (6/14)
Leading rebounder: Raiders: Schneck 10; Glasgow: Achara/Murray 6
Leader in assists: Raiders: Bell 4; Glasgow: Multiple 3
Field-Goal Percentage: Raiders: 43 per cent (31/72 attempts); Glasgow: 52 per cent (33/64)
Three-Point Percentage: Raiders: 23 per cent (5/22 attempts); Glasgow: 43 per cent (9/21)
Free-Throw Percentage: Raiders: 71 per cent (17/24 attempts); Glasgow: 88 per cent (22/25)
Total rebounds: Raiders 34 Glasgow 38
Offensive rebounds: Raiders 10 Glasgow 7
Turnovers: Raiders 13 Glasgow 16
Fast-break points: Raiders 4 Glasgow 0
Biggest lead: Raiders 4 Glasgow 15
Points in the paint: Raiders 32 Glasgow 38
Points off the bench: Raiders 19 Glasgow 24