(Moncton, NB: January 14th, 2018)
For Canadian basketball fans, and specifically those in Toronto, Moncton and London, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better evening than we enjoyed last night. Now it wasn't the most promising of starts, but anyone who changed the channel or turned off their devices, missed a couple of absolute classics. The Raptors gave up 81 points in the first half and trailed the Warriors by up to 27 at one point. The Moncton Magic meanwhile, got down double digits to a London Lightning team at home looking for their tenth straight victory. But by the time the fourth quarters rolled around, there were plenty of sweaty palms and white knuckles from coast to coast. There are many other sources for intelligent observation on the Raptors narrow 127-125 loss to the NBA's defending champs. As for the Magic's 147-146 double OT loss to the reigning NBL champions, here are a few observations and takeaways:
- There is NOTHING more punitive in the NBL than a live-ball turnover against the London Lightning—The Magic actually won the turnover battle last night 24-16, but London's athletes are so frightening with the wind at their backs that it makes careful execution of every offensive possession just that little bit more stressful. You have to account for them in transition off of missed and even MADE shots (London went end to end off of Moncton scores in mere seconds on multiple occasions) but giving them a head start off a bad pass or ball-handling error is a recipe for disaster.
- The key to Moncton's postseason success may be their big men—All NBL Canada fans know the names Anthony Anderson and Terry Thomas. And the contributions of guys like Corey Allmond and Jeremy Williams at the guard and forward positions are usually easily recognizable. But it's the play of Anthony Cox, Tirrell Baines and Canadian Denzell Taylor that could ultimately determine the fate of the franchise this season. T-Baines had easily his best game of the season last night with 21 points, 14 boards and 6 assists. And Cox and Taylor combined for 17 and 11 with 4 steals in their 38 total minutes. With the names already mentioned, together with Brent Jennings, Jason Calliste and Al Stewart, the Magic have plenty of places to turn to in the backcourt and for offence. With a little bit of scoring up front to go with the usual defence and rebounding from that 3-man rotation, the Magic will scare any squad in the league in a 3 or 5 game series.
- Royce White is the league MVP, but he may not be the clear MVP on his own team—Now I'm not gonna sit here and tell you the Lightning's 2-5 start was anything resembling White's fault, but there is a reason they were able to overcome his suspensions and subsequent roster turnover and stretch their winning streak to 10 games. As formidable as they are out on the break with athletes like Garrett Williamson, Mo Bolden and Ryan Anderson, it's not like you get a rest when they set up in the half court. Seven of the ten wins have come with Doug Herring Jr. back in charge of most of their screen and roll looks with White. He carved up the Magic for a new league-record 21 assists, and with his rare size and vision and athleticism at the point guard spot, he will have to be as much a part of any team's defensive game plan as the reigning MVP.
- Anyone throwing their hands up and handing the league crown over to London after 9-straight wins needs to give their heads a shake—London is still a good bet to be the Central representative in the league finals and Moncton didn't exactly provide an easy blueprint to toppling them. That being said, it took Herring setting league records, White eclipsing 40 points, double-doubles from Anderson and Bolden, the loss of Jeremy Williams to illness, and 2 overtimes to snuff out the Magic playing the second night of a back-to-back. St. John's explosive offence and rangy athletes can provide problems for anyone, and Halifax and the St. John Riptide have won 4 and 3 consecutive games respectively and possess the kind of experience and defensive prowess to lock down anyone on a given night. The league is deeper and more talented than ever this season. Check out Island's Franklins Session and Du'Vaughn Maxwell, Cape Breton's Duke Mondy or Bruce Massey, KW's Derek Hall or Justin Hurtt, Windsor's Logan Stutz or Maurice Jones and Niagara's Marvell Waithe and Sam Muldrow and tell me that any of those squads will be pushovers come playoff time.
Speaking of the River Lions, the Magic continue their road trip today at 3 Atlantic at the Meridian Centre in Saint Catherines. The Magic will be without Jeremy Williams, who is sick and on his way back to Moncton. Coming off such a quick turnaround from a double OT game and playing their third game in three days, beating a River Lions squad back comfortable at home will be a tall order. But, after the heart and effort on display in London last night, anyone want to bet against them? Tune in to monctonmagic.ca for the link to today's matchup and find me @hoopstingley on twitter to talk about it.
Story by: David Tingley