Having won their opening three games of the season, the Dragons went on to suffer defeat in their next four, including two heavy defeats on successive weekends at Manchester Magic. And, with Bradford sitting in fourth place in the Northern pool table, ahead of their visitors only on points difference, this was a game that neither team could afford to lose. The Dragons’ Den was all set for a mighty battle.
The Dragons squad is still without long serving forward, Rihards Sulcs, who is scheduled for an operation on his injured knee later this week. However, both Jason Swaine and Adria Rodriguez Vinas declared themselves available, playing through the pain of Plantar Fasciitis, which has been dogging both players in recent weeks.
Both sides continued to make offensive errors, however a couple of trademark Jason Swaine three pointers and a trademark Nick Moore slam dunk helped the Dragons to increase their advantage to twelve points, going into the first scheduled break at 29-17 and looking as though it was all going Bradford’s way.
However, a revitalised Derby came on court for the second quarter, turning the screw on their hosts, forcing them into multiple turnovers and reducing the deficit to only four points (35-31) within the first three and a half minutes of the quarter. Coach Mellor called a timeout for Bradford to try and change the direction that the game was now going. However, the Trailblazers, spurred on by an enthusiastic away following, continued to pile up the points and it was them that held the advantage, 44-48, as the teams went back to their locker rooms at half time.
Bradford regrouped during the interval, and although both teams continued to turn the ball over and miss offensive opportunities the home side just had the better of the penultimate period, reducing the arrears to just two points, 61-63.
It didn’t take long for the Dragons to take the lead, pushing the Trailblazers into calling a timeout within a minute of the restart. The two sides continued trading baskets and when Mellor called another timeout, with little over three minutes remaining, the scores were tied at 76 apiece.
But the real excitement was yet to unfold, when another timeout was called by Mellor, with his side down by two points, but with Nick Moore about to go to the line for two shots, giving him the opportunity to tie the game with only 18.1 seconds remaining on the clock. Moore missed the first, but sank the second, leaving the Dragons trailing by one point.
The visiting coach responded by calling a final timeout of his own, and with the clock still showing 18.1, but with the Trailblazers in possession of the ball, it looked as though the Dragons had missed their opportunity. But, Henri Bongoma had other ideas, stealing possession straight from the restart and streaking towards the basket, only to miss what seemed like a simple layup. However, Moore was on hand to take the rebound and to sink the basket with a layup of his own.
There were still ten seconds remaining, time enough for Derby to mount a final offence. However, the Dragons defence kept them out of the key, restricting them to long distance attempts. Donaldson put up a three pointer, which bounced off the ring back into offensive possession and as Dan Watts attempted the same, right on the final buzzer, he could only watch as the ball hit the back of the ring and bounced back out to court, sending the home support and team into a state of ecstasy.
Match winner, Moore, topped the scoring for the Dragons with an impressive 33 points, followed closely by Bongoma who took 29 points, which included four from six three pointers. Rafi Saipe deserves a mention for a stellar defensive display, restricting Derby’s Dan Watts, who averages around twenty points a game, to a mere three points.
Dragons coach, Chris Mellor, was in exuberant mood after the game, saying, “We got off to a great start, but then Derby started to find their range and it was pretty much basket for basket the rest of the way. We struggled on the boards again, but I was pleased with the way we kept fighting and fortunately for us Nick managed to chase Henri’s layup and we hung on at the end. Both Nick and Henri put in big offensive performances, whilst Rafi and Jermayne’s defensive efforts were also a big factor in the win.”
The Dragons will now face the winners of the Southern pool in the quarter finals, with the tie due to be played on January 10th.
Basketball action is back in the Dragons Den again next Saturday (24th), as Bradford open their National Basketball League Division One campaign with a home fixture against newly promoted London Lituanica. Tipoff in the Den is at 6:15pm and tickets are available in advance via the Dragons’ website.
In other games involving the Dragons, the under 18’s were beaten, 49-69, by Gateshead Phoenix II, in the curtain raiser to the main game in the Dragons Den. Meanwhile, the under 14’s opened their campaign with an emphatic victory, 24-91, at Killamarsh Derbyshire Arrows.
Dragons junior, Jayden Martin, has been shortlisted by Basketball England to attend the Youth Sport Trust, National Talent Camp to be held at Loughborough University in December.
All photographs © ALEX DANIEL PHOTOGRAPHY