The Bradford Dragons hosted a stunning triple-overtime thriller against City of Birmingham Rockets at the Inspire Centre on Saturday evening. With nothing to separate the two sides at the end of regulation time and two periods of overtime, Dragons’ hearts were eventually broken by a buzzer beating trey at the death of the third additional passage of play, as the Rockets took the win, 128-131.
The two sides had met just three weeks earlier, in the quarter finals of the KitKing Trophy, at Birmingham’s home court. That too was a closely fought contest with the Dragons holding out to take a three point win, 82-85, to book their spot in the semi-finals. It was clear from that game alone that the two sides were very evenly matched; however nobody could have anticipated the events that were to unfold in the Dragons’ Den.
Bradford were boosted by Jordan Whelan’s return, having missed the previous week’s fixture at Reading Rockets with neck and back problems. Jabari Edwards (sponsored by KW Basketball), who limped out of the game at Reading, having turned his ankle, was also declared fit to play. But, the real headline on the Dragon’s roster was the inclusion of Albert Margai, who has missed almost three complete seasons through injury.
The opening quarter set out the pattern of the game, with neither side being able to establish a commanding lead. The Dragons did hold the advantage for the majority of the period, although never by more than five points. As the game entered the final thirty seconds of that first quarter, it was the Rockets that held a two point advantage, but a layup from Whelan ensured that the two sides went into the first scheduled break level pegging (24-24).
Ronald Oberia restored Birmingham’s lead right from the restart, but that was cancelled out by Rihards Sulcs (sponsored by Gio’s Italian Bar and Kitchen). The two sides continued trading scores throughout the second quarter and as the buzzer sounded for half time there was only three points between the two sides, with the visitors holding the slim advantage (49-52).
Baskets from Martyn Gayle and Commonwealth gold medallist Orlan Jackman quickly increased the Rockets advantage to seven, but that was short-lived as successive two point jump shots from Micah Savery-Richards (sponsored by Milestone Design Ltd.) followed by a layup by Margai, brought the home side back within a single point. A three pointer from Justin Williams (sponsored by the Ireland Family) gave the Dragons a slim lead at the mid-point of the quarter (62-61).
But then, Birmingham hit a purple patch in their play and started to pull away from the Dragons. As the penultimate period drew to a close the gap was as high as nine points (69-78), leaving Bradford with work to do in the final period.
And the opening minutes of that final quarter could not have gone any better for the home team. Williams layed up and then followed that up with a trey. Sulcs was then fouled on his way to the basket and he sank both shots from the line. It was then William’s turn to be sent to the line and again he successfully bucketed both attempts and suddenly the two sides were level again (78-78).
Having gone four minutes without a score, Birmingham then responded with treys from Samuel Toluwase and Karl Teesdale, but the Dragons again struck back to lead by a single point going into the final four minutes of play (87-86).
Two minutes later the scores were tied at 91-91. In those final two minutes, both teams were feeling the strain and neither side managed to add to their score. That was until with only two seconds of play remaining Kayne King hit a trey to all but seal the tie for the visitors.
Chris Mellor immediately called a time out, which allowed for the Dragons’ possession to be moved up into the offensive half of the court. But with the clock now showing only one second of play remaining the cards were stacked up against the home side. Joe Buchanan (sponsored by Mery Valentine) was tasked with putting the ball back into play from the sideline. It looked at first that he was seeking a pass to Williams, however that proved to be a decoy and he found Sulcs in space on the edge of the arc, who rose immediately to take the shot. There was nothing else to be done but watch, and as the buzzer sounded the ball hit the backboard and through the hoop, sending the game into an overtime situation (94-94).
With the scores tied at the end of normal play, an additional period of five minutes is played in order to find a winner. But again the two sides were evenly matched and again the Rockets took a three point lead, this time with 12 seconds remaining on the clock. Three seconds later it was Buchanan’s turn to shoot a trey and the scores were tied at 108-108 at the end of overtime.
So, the two teams went again, with a second five minute overtime period. There was absolutely no change to the script, with the two sides matching one another point for point. Once again, it was the Rockets that took a three point lead towards the end of the period. But the Dragons were not for giving up and this time it was Margai that stepped up to the plate and took a shot from distance to level the scores and unbelievably send the game into a third overtime.
The Rockets started the period with two points from Jackman, but then the Dragons went on an unanswered seven point run to put them in a strong position with just two minutes on the clock (126-121).
But now it was the turn of the Rockets to score seven points unanswered, retaking a two point advantage with just twenty four seconds remaining. Williams was then fouled and sent to the line and as to be expected he sank both shots to level the game (128-128) with just 16 seconds remaining.
With the clock running down, King rose to shoot from distance and this time it was the Rockets that saw the ball run through the hoop to the sound of the buzzer, whilst the Dragons’ players slumped to the floor in dismay.
Birmingham took the win (128-131) and now move on to a 2-0 record in the league so far, whilst the Dragons still remain winless from their opening three fixtures.
Justin Williams was once again the top scorer for the Dragons with 31 points, whilst also making eight assists. In all, the Dragons had six players in double figures with Rihards Sulcs on 21 points, Jordan Whelan with 19 points, Micah Savery-Richards and Joe Buchanan with 17 points each and Zion Tordoff contributing 14 points. Bradfords only other scorer, Albert Margai, was just one short of double figures on 9 points.
Orlan Jackman registered the game high, with 34 points. He was supported by Samuel Toluwase (25 points), Ronald Oberia (20 points), Kayne King (19 points) and Martyn Gayle (15 points).
The Dragons host the Nottingham Hoods this coming Saturday, another team that currently have a 2-0 record in the league. The game tips off at 6:15pm and whilst there is no guarantee of another triple overtime thriller there is no doubt that it will be another fast paced, adrenalin fuelled fixture. Supporters are encouraged to pre-book their tickets via www.bradforddragons.co.uk/tickets with an automatic 20% early bird discount being applied to all purchases before midnight on Friday.
Photographs © Max Lomas Photography