Mersey Tigers kept their treble dream alive as they disposed of a never-say-die Leicester Riders side in the first round of the BBL play-offs.
Taking a three point cushion in to Sunday’s second leg at the John Amaechi Centre in Manchester, Tigers edged home 92-90 to move within 80 minutes of a third final appearance of the season, as they look to add to the BBL Championship and BBL Trophy titles they’ve already brought back to Merseyside in 2011.
In truth, Tony Garbelotto’s men should have held a more comfortable lead going in to the second leg, eventually winning 89-86 in Leicester on Saturday despite holding a nine point lead late in the fourth quarter.
The Riders, buoyed by their late show the night before which dragged them back in to the contest, set about ensuring a high intensity first quarter and although the Tigers opened up a 10-6 advantage, Leicester got on a hot streak and soon turned that in to a 18-12 lead.
Ahead 22-19 at the end of the first quarter, the Riders bombed a big chance to open up a five point lead when Jo Harris missed an early second quarter dunk, but they could do little about Nate Reinking, who landed four fine three-pointers to put the Tigers in command at 44-37.
But in what was turning in to be a pattern in this tie, Leicester fought back, and managed to carve away at their deficit to reduce arrears on the night to just two at the break, five down on aggregate.
The Tigers scored eight of the first nine second half points to once again put them in command, and they led by ten at 58-48 midway through the third, and looking like closing out the game.
But once again the Riders hit back and as the tie entered its final ten minutes, they were just four points down on aggregate at 63-62.
The pivotal moment of the match perhaps came when Leicester were handed consecutive technical fouls, which allowed Reinking to put the Tigers 78-70 in front.
Even then, the Riders refused to die, and they fought back bravely to lead 88-87 in the final minute, before eventually time transpired against them, with David Aliu and James Jones rounding off the points to ensure the Tigers went through with a victory.
Reinking, who recorded a personal haul of 25 points, said: “We knew it was going to be tough, they’ve played hard in each game we’ve faced them this year. We just had to keep it close. In basketball we just always want to win the game so the point difference didn’t matter. James hit some big shots and we just made some plays and it was kind of crazy towards the end with all the technicals. We’re just happy we can come out of here with the victory.”