Rod Brown makes pleasing bow as Plymouth Raiders claim epic win
A SELL-OUT crowd shared a great experience at the Pavilions on Saturday night.
Marjon Plymouth Raiders mirrored the feel-good mood and unselfishly shared the ball to ensure a happy ending and cap a special night in the BBL Championship.
Raiders overcame Manchester Giants 119-115 in double-overtime to improve their record to 12-5 in fourth position in the standings.
After losing back-to-back in early December and sliding to 8-5, Raiders have now won their last four league contests and are starting to build real momentum.
And the cavalry is coming.
Raiders' top scorer Michael Ojo says he hopes to return from a fractured eye socket when they next play and host Durham Wildcats at the Pavilions this Friday.
New recruit Andreas Schreiber is also set to make his debut against Wildcats, while veteran point-guard Rod Brown, who made his Raiders bow on Saturday, is only set to get better.
Brown, 34, who has been without a club and not played all season, dug deep to orchestrate Raiders' offence against Giants with a game-high 14 assists and 10 points in a lung-busting 47 minutes.
Brown only walked over to Raiders' bench and a huge ovation from the arena after he had committed a fifth and final foul halfway through the second extra frame.
In all, Raiders completed a selfless 35 assists on 46 field-goals. To put that proportion into context, Giants, who moved the ball really well on offence, had only 16 assists on 42 field-goals.
"We don't have any superstars," said Raiders boss – and former point-guard himself – Gavin Love following Saturday's win. But we're now making each other better. When you see that ball movement, that's what I love about basketball.
"Rod is not the quickest guy in the world, but he's looking at making passes all over – he can see the whole floor. That's what a real point-guard does."
Brown was recruited by Raiders to replace Jeremy Bell, who was axed after taking time out back home in the USA for undisclosed personal reasons.
Love added: "It's not a slight on Jeremy, who I love and was one of the premier players in the BBL, but with this team and the talent we have, Rod's probably a better fit for us."
Brown has played continuously at the highest level in European basketball, in Spain, Italy and Greece, from 2005-11.
Despite his lack of match practice, he called on that class on Saturday and also showed how fired up he is to be at the Pavilions.
In the middle of the fourth quarter, Raiders looked to have made a decisive rally after trailing ominously by seven points, 74-67 late in the third.
Brown turned the screw and forced Giants' Devan Bailey to turn over the ball and hand possession back to Raiders.
Brown, near the right sideline and halfway, turned to the Raiders fans, pumping his fists and looked like he was going to jump in the front row.
"Rod's going to be fun to play with!" said Raiders guard Drew Lasker. "He's on a whole different level. He finished with 14 assists and he's not even in shape and didn't know our offence."
Brown and Raiders centre Matt Schneck combined scored eight points in a 10-2 home run which built a 25-18 lead late in the first quarter.
It was the first real move of a contest, which had a dizzying 31 lead changes come its conclusion.
Giants, buoyed by stunning high-fliers Surrey Heat 85-68 on Friday, responded immediately with a 21-7 run, which put them 39-32 up in the middle of the second.
Giants guard Stefan Gill, counter-attacking Raiders with terrific pace and success, scored nine of the points.
Giants big-man David Aliu was a heartbeat away from extending the gap to 10 points and 52-42 late in the first half – but Lasker explosively backtracked and blocked his attempt at the rim.
Raiders went down the other end and, through a three from forward Colin O'Reilly, cut Giants' lead to five, 50-45 at the break.
Lasker said: "We weren't playing well, but we said to each other at half-time, 'We're only down by five, we can be confident now'. We raised our game and came out with a win."
O'Reilly's three triggered a 9-0 Raiders run, which put Love's team 51-50 up early in the third quarter.
Schneck again was key with four points, while Lasker, fittingly, finished what he started and capped the streak, scoring inside after beating two Giants defenders to the ball and grabbing an offensive rebound – to which he had no right.
Giants looked like a winning team after enjoying a 7-0 run at the end of the third, which built a 74-67 lead.
Raiders missed two, threes and a lay-up at the rim during the spell, and fatally looked to have dried up, offensively.
But again Lasker came up huge with a three from the left wing to cut the gap to four, 74-70 heading into the final frame.
"It would have been gutting to walk out with a loss," said Lasker. "We gave it everything."
Lasker's basket sparked a 22-7 home run and built a 89-81 lead which again looked to be decisive. Forward Jamal Williams, coming off Raiders' bench, was this time key.
Williams buried a three from the top of the arc to put Raiders 77-76 up before spectacularly taking off and converting an athletic second-chance basket inside, off a Lasker miss to make it 79-76.
But back came Giants with a 14-6 rally, capped by 2/2 free-throws from Ben Eaves, under huge pressure with 9.5 seconds left, to make it 95-95 and force the first extra frame.
Giants could have delivered a killer blow when they trailed 103-102, but had possession with 29 seconds left in overtime.
Giants wanted to get the ball to their former Great Britain international, forward Nick George near the right baseline.
But Raiders rookie Javarris Barnett – getting my vote for most valuable player with a relentless and monster 30 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists – played excellent defence on George, fighting his way in front of his man and preventing the ball even getting to him.
In the second period of overtime, Giants and former Raiders guard James Jones – who had a quiet night – made 2/2 free-throws to cut Raiders' lead to two points, 110-108 with 2:34 remaining.
That man Barnett didn't shy away from the big moment and buried a three from the top of the perimeter to make it 113-108 and ear-splitting cheers from a deafening crowd.
Finally, Raiders were out of sight and have now swept Giants 3-0 in the league this season.
Lasker said: "Manchester are 10 times better than earlier in the season. It's a great win for us. Manchester were just on another level to us in the first half."
Lasker added: "It was rocking (in the Pavilions). Hopefully, we can keep the crowds this big for the rest of the season. It definitely gives you an extra ounce of energy at the end."
Scorers: Raiders: Barnett 30 points (13/21 field-goals), Schneck 27 (9/15), Lasker 21 (7/17), O'Reilly 17 (7/14), Williams 13 (6/10), Brown 10 (4/16), Potter 1 (0/0); Manchester: Gill 28 (9/23), George 27 (9/16), Eaves 18 (7/10)
Leading rebounder: Raiders: Barnett/O'Reilly 11; Manchester: Watts 14
Leader in assists: Raiders: Brown 14; Manchester: Gill 4
Field-Goal Percentage: Raiders: 49 per cent (46/93 attempts); Manchester: 43 per cent (42/97)
Three-Point Percentage: Raiders: 37 per cent (10/27 attempts); Manchester: 29 per cent (8/28)
Free-Throw Percentage: Raiders: 59 per cent (17/29 attempts); Manchester: 88 per cent (23/26)
Total rebounds: Raiders 50 Manchester 52
Offensive rebounds: Raiders 14 Manchester 13
Turnovers: Raiders: 10 Manchester 14
Fast-break points: Raiders 0 Manchester 4
Biggest lead: Raiders 8 Manchester 9
Points in the paint: Raiders 56 Manchester 46
Points off the bench: Raiders 14 Manchester 52