Bradford Dragons battled resiliently but ultimately succumbed to an 81-69 road defeat against the Hemel Storm on Saturday evening.
Dragons matched the third-seeded Storm for large stretches, but a disappointing third quarter left Coach Mellor’s team with too much to do in the fourth quarter.
Winning back-to-back road playoff games was always going to be a tough ask, and to their credit, Dragons never gave up. The Dragons 2020-21 NBL Division One campaign ends at the second-round stage of the NBL Division One playoffs.
A low-scoring opening quarter set the scene for a gritty game as both teams worked their way into the game.
The hosts broke into an early 8-2 lead, but the Dragons soon snuffed out the deficit with 12 straight points to open a narrow 12-10 lead of their own.
Dave Walsh knocked in his first of seven threes in the game, as the visitor’s offense was beginning to get going midway through the first quarter.
At the end of the first period, the game was all tied up at 17.
The opening minutes of the second period followed the same trajectory as the first quarter, with the hosts establishing a sizeable early lead.
The Storm’s dangerous tandem of Mike Williams and Greg Poleon started to get it going as the hosts fired off a 14-2 run to blow the game wide open.
With Dragons down 31-19, a swift response was essential for Coach Mellor’s team to stay within touching distance.
Walsh answered the call for Dragons as he rattled off nine straight points, all from the three-point line. Walsh’s fourth three of the evening cut the deficit to 33-28 with 4:02 left in the first half.
Showing tenacious grit to fight back, the visitors closed out the half strongly courtesy of a 9-4 run that tied the game at 37, heading into halftime.
Williams led all scorers with 17 points as Walsh top-scored for Dragons with 14 first half points.
Out of halftime, the Dragons started the second half flat and were punished by a potent Storm offense.
Williams and Poleon scored the host’s first nine points in an 11-0 run that re-established the Storm’s 11-point lead less than three minutes into the half.
The Dragons were starting to look stagnant on offense as the perimeter shooting began to dry up in a costly quarter.
Šulcs stopped the Storm’s run at 11, with a timely three, that cut the deficit to 48-40.
The hosts led by as many as 15 in a dominant third quarter, which left Dragons trailing 62-50 heading into the fourth quarter.
Outscoring the Dragons 25-13 in the third, the Storm had all the momentum with both teams’ season on the line.
The opening minutes of the quarter saw both teams trade buckets, and as a Bode Aduluola layup extended the Storm’s lead to 14 (70-56), the visitors called a timeout.
With just over six minutes left in the game, it was win or go home time, and the Dragons rose to the challenge out of the timeout.
Four straight points from Great Osobor, and Dave Walsh’s seventh three of the evening, halved the Storm’s lead to 70-63.
But unfortunately for Dragons, that was as close as the game got in the fourth. With the visitors struggling to execute on the offensive end, the Storm took care of business and sealed their passage into the semi-finals.
The Final Score, Hemel Storm 81-69 Bradford Dragons. A valiant effort from the Dragons, who see their season end at the quarter-final stage of the playoffs.
Hemel Storm’s Mike Williams led all scorers with 30 points.
Dave Walsh led the Dragons in scoring with 24 points and Rihards Šulcs added 19 points, 14 rebounds, and 4 steals.
Box Score: https://www.fibalivestats.com/u/BBE/1877686/bs.html#ASFSK
Coach Mellor pointed to the Dragons challenging third quarter display, he said:
“We were in good shape at the half with a tied game, but we started the 3rd quarter badly and never really recovered.”