The Riders beat the Bristol Flyers 84-77 in the first leg of the BBL Playoffs semi-final.
They led by as many as 26 in the game, but the Flyers showed heart to get back into the fixture going back to Leicester.
Led by Zach Jackson’s 14 points and eight rebounds, the Riders had six scorers in double digits in a complete team display. They shot well from three, going 38%, and went 20-26 from the free-throw line in an efficient showing.
VJ King exploded for 26 points off the bench for the hosts. He made big shots throughout to snatch back momentum for Bristol, his scoring runs keeping the Flyers in it.
The Riders leapt out to an early advantage, taking control of the game from the first quarter. Making his return from injury after being sidelined since mid-April, Aaron Menzies made his presence known on the inside.
His interior defence was pivotal in holding the Flyers to 11 first-quarter points, and he put up seven on the other end, including a monster jam.
The Riders went on an 11-0 run to end the period, putting them up 15 after a Menzies finish inside.
Leicester’s early dominance continued into the second. They started it 8-0, making it 19 points unanswered to go up 26. The Riders’ defence held Bristol scoreless for nearly seven minutes of play, suffocating the hosts.
The Flyers found form towards the end of the half. They exploded for a 12-0 run, led by five from King, to cut it to 13 by halftime.
The sides traded three-point bombs to start the third. Bristol hit four, Leicester hit three, and the Riders’ lead was cut to 10 five minutes in.
Evan Walshe found the bucket to score five straight for Leicester, stemming the tide. The Riders held an 11-point advantage with one to play.
A 7-3 Riders run to start the fourth rebuilt the lead. Menzies battled inside four two quick buckets as the visitors found momentum.
But again, Bristol battled back. They found a way to cut the game back to eight through nine straight points from King.
The sides exchanged big buckets down the stretch, but the Riders maintained their lead. A layup from Thomas Bell ended it, Leicester taking a seven-point lead back to the Morningside Arena.
The home leg takes place on Sunday, tipping off at 5:30 pm in front of the Sky Sports cameras.
Get your tickets here to see your Riders battle to book their place in the O2 Arena.