The two richest basketball teams in the country headed to town this weekend, and both were made to work by the new look Plymouth City Patriots, who showed more than enough grit and determination for a team that has had to introduce two new signings in as many weeks. The Gladiators would scrape the win in the first game 72-82, but the Sunday fixture would prove to be one for the ages.
The Lions rolled into town Sunday afternoon in relative luxury. The luxury that comes from having billionaire owners, with a roster that boasted a number of high profile British and overseas players. The fact remains that the Lions did perhaps underestimate the Patriots, only bringing with them a handful of the superstars that currently reside on their roster. Even so, the London team were still heavy favourites and were looking to come to the South West, take an early lead and be back on the coach to the nation's capital before anyone in Plymouth noticed. However, it did not unfold in that manner. From the opening tip off the Patriots and their ever loyal fan base, had a level of intensity that they have only previously displayed in fits and starts so far this season. The home team Patriots didn’t play like a team that had only managed one win from their previous eleven games. Defensively, they played with a ferociousness that made it increasingly difficult for the Lions to gain any kind of momentum. Time and again they forced turnovers, interrupted the passing lane and pressured their opposing numbers like possessed men. Offensively they played for the first time this season with real belief. They worked each possession looking for the best available shot, and took those shots with a renewed confidence that has been lacking in previous games this season. By the end of the first quarter the Patriots were up by double figures, and by half time the lead was 21.
The game was far from over. The talent on the Lions roster combined with the high profile coaching staff would mean that the Patriots could expect the Lions to make adjustments and come flying out of the blocks from the first whistle of the second half. They did just that, hitting their first two three pointers and upping their defensive intensity. The Patriots however, still hyped from their opening twenty minutes of excellence, matched the Lions almost basket for basket. Even so, the visitors managed to reduce the Patriots lead by 14 points. The Lions would certainly not go quietly into the night. Or would they? The final push that the Patriots expected never really came, as the home team put on a masterclass at both ends of the court.
Taylor Johnson led the way with 24 points, but it was an all round team performance. Jacob Wiley and TJ Atwood were also big contributors on the night, but also the experienced heads of Elvisi Dusha and Joe Hart had exceptional contributions from the bench, offering the type of thing that doesn't show up on the stats sheet. That said Hart scored 13 points and had 83% shooting percentage. Spencer Levi also gave the home team a spark in the rebounds department, grabbing 13 boards. At the final buzzer the Patriots had not only won the game, but they had annihilated their opponents 94-70.
To cap off a historic victory, Head Coach Paul James' winning record as a coach in the BBL before the game, stood at 499. With the long string of defeats and this weekend's tough fixtures, reaching the 500 mark looked impossible. And yet, as the final moments of the game unfolded, it was clear that the BBLs winningest coach would hit the half century as the final buzzer
sounded, making the night even more special. As a reward, he was surrounded by the jubilant Patriots players, who promptly emptied the contents of the water and ice bucket over him. “I said before the game, this would be an amazing game to get my 500th win...” started Coach James in his post game interview, he continued, “we’re not a bad team and they massively underestimated us.” James was impressed with his team's performance on the night, saying “defensively we played in the gaps and disrupted their offence very well. I thought we did great tonight taking them out of their rhythm. When we subbed out our starters for Elvisi [Dusha], Joe [Hart] and Jules [Dang-Akodo], our level didn’t drop. If anything it went up and we built a bigger lead. They made a positive difference.”
Team captain Elvisi Dusha was understandably upbeat after the game, saying “it’s great to get that chip off our shoulder after struggling to get a win, and what a game to do it in. Being able to come out on top is a big turning point for us and to do it on PJ’s 500th win just tops off a great night.”
Joe Hart, who missed all of last season due to a knee injury was also thrilled at the win. “I think that’s the best basketball we’ve played as a group collectively this season. It’s going to do us a world of good, to play the way we did. A game like today only proves we are moving in the right direction as a team and we’re gelling together nicely.”
The Patriots still sit at the foot of the BBL table, but on equal points with both the Surrey Scorchers and Manchester Giants. However, after Sunday nights win the Plymouth side will have a new found confidence and lease of life, as the loom set to embark on the last two thirds of the season, starting next Sunday afternoon, when the Newcastle Eagles come to town.
Tickets can be found by visiting plymouthcitypatriots.com
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