Leicester Riders produced perhaps their performance of the season to put one foot in The Molten BBL Play-Off Final, after beating Cheshire Phoenix 99-55 on the road in the first leg of their semi-final. It was a record winning margin in any BBL Play-Off game ever, just two points shy of a record win for the Riders against this opposition, and their highest points tally of the campaign so far; paced by 20 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists from Drew Sullivan.
And the league champions set the tone from the outset, starting 11-3 as TrayVonn Wright’s impactful ‘alley-oop’ got them going; and the team with four Molten BBL All-Defensive players held their hosts scoreless for four minutes. The lead reached 16-5 as Riders kept getting out on the break, Drew Sullivan finishing, and Tyler Bernardini’s buzzer-beating three-pointer was a dagger at the end of the first quarter.
Conner Washington hit seven early points in an 11-4 start to the second stanza, and the lead went through twenty when Sullivan and Wright dunked in a run of eight unanswered for 50-26. Bernardini added another five to make the score 57-30 at the half, with Riders shooting twice as efficiently as Phoenix: 70% from the field, led by Sullivan’s 6/6 for 12 points, and stifling Cheshire to just 32%.
The lead went through thirty immediately in the second half, as Bernardini made another triple, making him 3/3. And it reached record proportions in a stunning spell over the third quarter break. Riders scored the last 12 of the third, and the first 11 of the fourth, in a 23-0 surge over an eight minute period, making the score 90-41.
Phoenix rallied late on, but still ended with their lowest points tally of the season, and will need a miracle to progress to The O2 next week. Riders have now won all four post-season meetings between these teams in BBL history, and remain unbeaten against Phoenix in two years, a run of ten games, with a record of 11-1 on the road in Cheshire dating back to 2011.
Cheshire Phoenix 55 (16,30,41) (Rochford 18, Taylor 16, Ellis 13)
Leicester Riders 99 (27,57,79) (Sullivan 20, Bernardini 13, Gruis/Wright 12)