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Dragons fall to defeat in season opener

October 10, 2023

Bradford Dragons entertained the Thames Valley Cavaliers at Calderdale College’s Inspire Centre on opening night of the National Basketball League Division One season, on Saturday evening. Unfortunately, for the Dragons, it was the visiting side that finished the game six points ahead, taking the game 78-84.

This fixture brought together the top three all-time scorers in the National Basketball League Division One since digital records began in the 2003-04 season, boasting a total of over 10,000 points between them. Bradford’s Rihards Sulcs (sponsored by Gio’s Italian Bar and Kitchen), now in his thirteenth season in the Dragons’ Den, tops the rankings with a total of 3,550 points, closely followed by Thames Valley’s Bode Adeluola on 3,488 points. The top three is then made up by another long term Dragon, Ricky Fetske (sponsored by Vision Properties, Leeds) with 3,141 points. Plus, the Dragons have within their ranks the top average points per game scorer from last season, in Justin Williams (24.3 points per game). Everything was in place for a high scoring game.

The Cavaliers gained possession at the tip-off, however Kai Walker’s layup failed to drop and Jordan Whelan picked up the rebound for Bradford sending Jabari Edwards (sponsored by KW Basketball) down to the other end where he sank a two point jump shot to open the scoring. Zion Tordoff (sponsored by Bubbles & Barks Dog Grooming) then doubled the hosts lead before Micah-Savery Richards (sponsored by Milestone Design Ltd.) hit the first trey of the game to give Bradford an early seven point lead (7-0).

Walker finally got the visitors off the mark, sinking the next four points of the game, and at the halfway point of the opening quarter the two sides were tied at nines. Tordoff then scored a couple of twos, sandwiched either side of a trey by AJ Roberts for the Cavaliers, and with Savery-Richards then adding a couple more two pointers the Dragons were back in control (17-12).

But again the Cavaliers fought back to tie the game at eighteen apiece, before a two from Williams and a triple from Joe Buchanan (sponsored by Meryl Valentine) restored the home side’s five point lead (23-18) before the buzzer sounded for the first scheduled break.

Straight from the restart, Williams hit a trey to extend the Dragons’ lead to eight points. The two sides traded baskets but the Dragons remained ahead and even extended their advantage to double figures when Williams sank another two point jump shot, just three and a half minutes into the quarter (32-22). However, slowly, but surely the Cavaliers started to eat into the Dragons’ lead and when the half time interval arrived they had reduced the deficit to just two points (44-42).

But again, at the start of the third period it was Bradford that set the early pace with baskets from Tordoff and Savery-Richards restoring a six point lead for the Dragons. But again the Cavaliers fought back and with just over half of the third period played they finally went ahead (50-51). For the next few minutes the two sides matched each other almost shot for shot and with just three minutes of the quarter remaining the scores were once again tied at 56-56.

Only three more baskets were scored in what remained of the quarter, with Adeluola sinking a trey, Edwards responding with a two point layup and then Igo Stokic sending the visitors into the final period with a three point lead (58-61).

A frustrating four minutes at the start of that final quarter saw the Dragons add only a single point to their score, whilst the Cavaliers set about opening up the largest lead of the game, a commanding fourteen points (59-73) and the home side looked dead and buried. Tordoff finally got Bradford on the scoresheet again with a spectacular dunk but at the midpoint of the quarter the gap was increased further to fifteen points (62-77). But then, the fortunes of the two sides flipped and it was the hosts that went on a scoring spree, whilst their guests struggled to get anything to sink and with just one minute of play remaining it was game on with the Dragons now only three points behind (75-78).

Roberts added a two for the Cavaliers and with time running out the Dragons were forced into fouling in their attempts to gain possession. But with Thames Valley being almost clinical from the free throw line the tactics failed to bring about the desired result and the game finished with the visitors taking the win by six points (78-84).

Unsurprisingly, the game’s high scorer was Justin Williams, who amassed a total of 27 points. He was supported by Zion Tordoff (19 points) and Micah Savery-Richards (19 points).

AJ Roberts led for Thames Valley with 20 points, whilst Bode Adeluola also contributed 19 points. Kai Walker also hit double figures with 13 points. Igor Stokic just missed out on a double-double with 9 points but a haul of 14 rebounds, more than any other player in the game.

The Dragons travel to Reading Rockets next Sunday, before returning to the Dragons Den the following weekend when City of Birmingham Rockets will be looking to extract revenge for the KitKing Trophy quarter final defeat to Bradford.

Photograph © Max Lomas Photography

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