Taunton Tigers booked a place in the last four of the National Play-offs with a hard fought win at home to Leicester Warriors in front of the biggest crowd of the season. They will now play the two-leg semi-final against Birmingham Athletics in their attempt to cap an incredible season with a play-off final in Newcastle at the end of April.
Taunton started against Leicester in the same fast flowing style that has seen them beat the best teams in the National Division 2 in recent weeks. Intense defence fuelled the Tigers fast break as Taunton threatened to run-over the Warriors early on. A mid-range jump-shot by Alistair Bird meant that they finished the first quarter with a healthy 26 – 16 point lead.
The rest of the game however followed a different pattern. Leicester began to control the tempo playing successful half-court offence whilst a Zone Defence restricted Taunton to long-range attempt. The Anderson twins Richard and Kevin linked well to create some better percentage looks at the basket but Bogg and Ward regularly made 3-point shots to keep the Warriors very much in the game.
The big crowd would regularly lift Taunton into the bursts of quality ball movement that they have become used to, but the Warriors lived up to their name and never laid down.
In the end it took the tenacity of Captain Graham Jones (16 points and MVP) to lead the team to victory. He was well supported by Andrews (24 points) and Yabsley (20 points) when it really mattered. The return of 6′6″ Tad Gray from illness was countered with the loss of Joe Saunders but the Tiger's bench proved once again the envy of the league. No other club can boast a squad with such depth in quality.
Having set themselves such high standards in recent months many of the players seemed a little disappointed with the performance but Head Coach Ronnie Heath saw many positives.
“It is fair to say we didn't perform at our best today but it is a sign of really good team that can win comfortably against a very experienced outfit without everyone firing. Remember this team beat us by 20 points two months ago. If we can score 91 points without offensive chemistry then watch out Birmingham!”
Birmingham have had their roster strengthened by the collapse of the BBL Bullets team and will prove to be a much tougher challenge. Their away win against strongly fancied Bristol in the quarters will have sent a clear message to everyone left in the competition.
Tigers will play the first leg at Home at the Wellspring Leisure centre on Sunday 15th April, 4.00pm tip-off. Supporters are encouraged to arrive early for what is likely to be a sell-out crowd for the biggest game of the new era.