The Bradford Dragons made the long away trip to Reading Rockets on Sunday afternoon, where they ultimately lost out 79-71, in a closely contested battle at the Loddon Valley Leisure Centre.
Still reeling from their home defeat against Thames Valley Cavaliers, the previous week, the Dragons were dealt a huge blow in the lead up to the game, with the highly influential Jordan Whelan ruled out with neck and back problems. To his credit, the shooting guard still made the journey with his team in order to cheer them on from the sidelines.
For Reading, this was to be their opening game of the season, having had a week off on the previous weekend, due to their only being thirteen teams in the division this season, following Team Solent Kestrels withdrawal during the close season. With a near capacity crowd enthusiastically cheering them on from the bleachers, they were hungry to get their season off to a winning start.
Christian Alexander won the tip-off, outjumping Bradford’s Zion Tordoff (sponsored by Bubbles & Barks Dog Grooming). The Reading forward then posted the first points on the board, sinking a two point layup within the first fifteen seconds of the game.
Joe Buchanan (sponsored by Meryl Valentine) responded with a layup for Bradford, only to be cancelled out by a further two pointer by Alexander. But Buchanan then landed a trey to give the Dragons their first lead of the game (4-5).
In a fairly low scoring first quarter, it took until the final 38 seconds for Reading to regain their lead, with a three-pointer from Reis Pinnock. But, with just seven seconds on the clock, Justin Williams popped up with a two to send Bradford into the first scheduled break ahead (16-17).
From the restart, Lewis Champion immediately restored the home side’s advantage with a trey and then followed that up with another of the same just twenty seconds later. Pinnock further extended the advantage and a succession of missed shots and turnovers from the Bradford side led Chris Mellor to call a timeout with little over two minutes of the second quarter played (24-17).
Rihards Sulcs (sponsored by Gio’s Italian Bar and Kitchen) responded by bucketing a layup, which was then followed by a Williams trey, reducing the deficit to just two points (24-22).
The Rockets then went on a scoring run of their own and with only 90 seconds remaining in the half their lead was up to double figures (39-29). A single from the line by Williams followed by a two-pointer and an extra at the line by Buchanan brought it back to a more respectable six points at the buzzer (39-33).
Tordoff and Buchanan put down the first four points of the second half, to bring the Dragons back within reach, but a five point run from Reading’s Finleigh Porter moved the gap back to seven, before Williams sank another three for the Dragons to pull it back again. The two sides continued trading baskets, and when Jabari Edwards (sponsored by KW Basketball) hit a trey, with just over half of the third quarter played, The Dragons were back with two points (47-45).
But, as we all know, things can change quickly in Basketball and whilst Bradford failed to add to their tally for the next couple of minutes, Reading once again increased their lead to double figures (55-45).
With only a minute of the quarter remaining the lead was further increased to eleven points and only a two point dunk by Tordoff kept the dragons within single figures going into the final period (59-50).
And what a final quarter it was. Reading increased their lead back to eleven, straight from the restart, but then the Dragons started to take hold of proceedings. On the halfway point of the period, Edwards was fouled whilst shooting and the young Dragon turned his ankle on landing leading to him being helped off court by his teammates. Buchanan stepped up to take the two penalty shots on his behalf, and sinking both from the line the Dragons were now just two points down and right back in it (63-61).
However the next five points went the way of the host side, giving them a seven point advantage. Dragons reduced this to four, before a run from Powell saw it extended again to nine points (73-64) with just over three minutes of play remaining.
Buchanan then sank his second trey of the game and with Sulcs then following that with a successful layup, the difference was once again back to just four points (73-69).
Pinnock then layed up for Reading, but Williams again pulled the points back, this time from the foul line (75-71). But with only a minute on the clock, Bradford needed possession and gambled on fouling to send Reading to the line. Champion sank both attempts and then when Sulcs turned the ball over on the next Dragons offensive, Williams had no option other than to foul and send Mitch Clarke to the line, where again he secured both points.
With just thirteen seconds remaining Jacques Misambu (sponsored by Ballerism) saw his three point shot bounce back off the rim and with Reading picking up the rebound they were content to let the clock run down and take the win (79-71).
Justin Williams once again recorded the games high score with 27 points, whilst team mate Joe Buchanan registered 15 points towards the Dragons total. Zion Tordoff picked up the only double-double of the game with thirteen points and eleven rebounds.
For Reading, Finleigh Porter was the top scorer with 17 points, whilst Mitch Clark, Zack Powell and Reis Pinnock all contributed 14 points each to the winning tally.
Bradford return to Calderdale College’s Inspire Centre this Saturday with the City of Birmingham Rockets making their first ever visit into the Dragons’ Den. With Bradford searching for their first league win of the season and Birmingham looking to exact their revenge on the Dragons, for the defeat in the KitKing Trophy quarter finals, this one is set up to be one of the most exciting matchups yet.
The game tips off at 6:15pm and supporters are encouraged to purchase their tickets in advance via the club website.
Photographs © LS Media