Bradford Dragons travelled to the Midlands for a Saturday evening KitKing Trophy quarter final match up against the City of Birmingham Rockets. In a thrilling game, which kept supporters on the edge of their seats right to the final buzzer, the Dragons took a narrow three point victory (82-85) to book their place in the semi-finals of the competition.
The Rockets are one of this season’s newcomers to the top flight, however they qualified for the quarter finals with a 100% winning record in the group stages, having despatched established division one sides Nottingham Hoods and Loughborough Riders. They also beat Milton Keynes Breakers, who were one of the teams invited to compete from the second tier of the National Basketball League and who also qualified for the quarter finals.
Any doubts regarding the Birmingham sides credentials were quickly dismissed in the opening minute of the game, when Orlan Jackman hit a trey and Ronald Oberia followed up with a dunk to give the hosts an early five point lead.
Zion Tordoff (sponsored by Bubbles and Barks Dog Grooming) then put the first points on the board for Dragons, making his layup and at the same time drawing a foul to send him to the line for an extra point (5-3).
During the next three minutes of play the Dragons failed to add to their score, whilst the home side extended their lead to eight points and from there the two sides cancelled each other out, almost point for point. At the end of the opening quarter, the Rockets remained ahead by five points (21-16).
Straight from the restart, Jordan Whelan sank a trey to reduce the deficit to just two points but then another barren spell saw the home side extend their advantage to eleven points (30-19). A couple of quick layups, again by Whelan, followed by another from Micah Savery-Richards (sponsored by Milestone Design Ltd.) brought the Dragons back into contention (30-25) but, by the time the buzzer sounded for half time, the home team had stretched their lead back out to ten points (48-38).
Oberia took first blood after the interval with another dunk and although the Bradford side added to their score by the halfway point of the third period the Rockets had taken their largest lead of the game, fourteen points (58-44), and looked good for the win.
However, Bradford were not in the mood to give in and slowly but surely they clawed their way back into the game. Baskets from Whelan, Tordoff, Rihards Sulcs (sponsored by Gios Italian Bar and Kitchen) and Savery-Richards contributed to the visitor’s fightback and as the penultimate quarter came to a close the gap was down to just three points (61-58).
Into the fourth and Jabari Edwards (sponsored by KW Basketball) brought the game to within a single point and although Birmingham’s Martin Gayle responded immediately Ricky Fetske quickly did the same for Bradford. Joe Buchanan (sponsored by Meryl Valentine) then hit a trey to give the Dragon’s their first lead of the game. He then followed that with a two point lay up and then another three pointer from beyond the arc.
Just before the halfway point of the final quarter Whelan made his layup to put the Dragons nine points clear (64-73) an incredible twenty-three point turnaround from the same point in the previous quarter.
Birmingham refused to keel over and clawed their way back into contention. With just 90 seconds of play remaining another score from Oberia brought the sides back to within a single point (82-81).
Savery-Richards then turned the ball over, to give Birmingham the opportunity to take the lead, but Kayne King took the ball out of bounds to give possession back to the Dragons. With Birmingham needing to score they were forced to foul, sending Edwards to the line for two shots. But the wall of noise from the enthusiastic home crowd proved too much of a distraction and he missed both attempts.
Birmingham picked up the rebound but then at the other end of the court were called for an offensive foul by Reiss Faure-Daley. From the line out, Sulcs was released for a sprint to the basket, where he was successful with his layup.
Behind by three, Faure Daley then saw his trey attempt bounce off the rim and as Tordoff picked up the rebound he was immediately fouled by Jordan Dawes, sending the Dragons’ forward to the line.
Again the crowd played their part and, just like Edwards before him, Tordoff missed both shots. But then Birmingham saw another three point attempt bounce back off the ring. Again Tordoff collected the rebound only to be immediately called for an offensive foul.
With time running out, the Rockets coach called a timeout. They needed a three and Oberia was the player selected to take the shot, but once again the ball didn’t go in and Fetske picked up the loose ball for Bradford. The inevitable foul followed, and once again the distraction from the crowd contributed to another double fail from the line.
Back at the other end, Birmingham had one final chance, but this time Gayle turned the ball over and Dragons kept possession for the final seconds to secure the win (82-85).
Jordan Whelan headed the Bradford scorers with 18 points, closely followed by Zion Tordoff on 17 points. Micah Savery-Richards contributed 14 points to the winning total whilst Joe Buchanan was also in double figures with 11 points.
But the two biggest hitters were both on the Rockets roster; Martyn Gayle on 26 points, which included five three pointers, also taking 14 rebounds to record the only double-double of the game. Orlan Jackman followed on 19 points, whilst Ronald Oberia also hit a very respectable 14 points for Birmingham.
The Dragons are joined by Reading Rockets, Derby Trailblazers and Hemel Storm in the Draw for the Semi Finals.
This coming Saturday, 7th October, the National Basketball League Division One gets underway and the Dragons host Thames Valley Cavaliers in their opening game. Tip off is at 6:15pm and supporters are encouraged to pre-book their tickets via the club website.
In other news, there were two Bradford Junior Dragons fixtures on Saturday. The under 16s travelled to Tees Valley Mohawks, Middlesbrough, where they were on the wrong end of a 60-40 scoreline, whilst the under 18s recorded a 68-77 win at JLC Wolves, in Scunthorpe.
Photo © Catarina Seixas