What we learned from Game One vs Sharks

The Riders opened their 2024 Playoff campaign on Sunday with an 84-81 win on the road against the Sheffield Sharks.

Series are won and lost through game-to-game adjustments, therefore Rob Paternostro and the team will pour over film from Game One to find an edge for Game Two.

Here’s what the Riders can take from Sunday’s action.

Riders’ rookies show resilience

If there were any nerves from the Riders’ rookies, Jaren Holmes and Miryne Thomas who were both making their professional playoff debuts, it didn’t show.

The American pair led the team to the Game One win with a combined 46 points and 14 rebounds, both putting up 20 to pick up the scoring load. 

Thomas’ Player of the Game performance saw him go off for 24 and 8, shooting 9-12 and making tough plays and highlights from start to finish. 

“I love this environment,” said Thomas post-game. “I love playing hard in competitive basketball, and tonight was a hell of a show.”

READ MORE: Riders react to Game One win

Meanwhile Holmes played downhill all game from the guard spot, relentlessly attacking the rim to keep the Riders in the game while they trailed through the second and third quarter. Like Thomas, Holmes relished the bright lights with his aggressive play. 

“I was just trying to make the right plays,” said Holmes. “That’s what I always try to do. I saw lanes and tried to attack, find my teammates and be aggressive. It’s a big part of my game when I’m aggressive and try to get downhill and make plays for others.” 

Sharks’ second unit shoulder scoring

The Sharks’ bench carried their scoring, going off for 59 points led by 25 from Prentiss Nixon. But 22 points from the starters, and none of the Sheffield starters scoring in double digits, meant the Riders had the best of the beginning and end of the game. 

Nixon checked in down 10 in the first quarter and scored 11 points in five minutes. His play cut the host’s deficit to two by the end of the first period. The Sharks’ bench was responsible for a 20 point swing in the score that saw them leading by seven with one to play. 

Rodney Glasgow Jr., also off the bench for Sheffield, led the team in +/- with 12. That tally was bettered only by Mo Walker for Leicester, who recorded a +/- of 15. 

The strong bench showing from the Sharks in Game One means the Riders should be prepared for a potential mix up to the Sheffield starting five.

Should there be no changes, the Riders bench will be required to lock in to stop the Sheffield second unit, which has showcased their firepower to start the series.

Defence wins championships

“Defensively is where we made our mark,” commented Head Coach Rob Paternostro following Game One, and that was especially true down the stretch. 

The Riders held the Sharks to 14 fourth quarter points after giving up over 20 in each of the first three periods, and got big plays from players in the big moments. 

The best defence was played in the first half of the final quarter, with Sheffield managing just six points. Sam Idowu blocked RJ Eytle-Rock and stole the ball from Jalon Pipkins in that period of play, and Teddy Allen stripped Nixon to set up a Thomas and-one.

The lockdown defence allowed the Riders to run in transition repeatedly, playing to the strengths of their rookie pair of Thomas and Holmes who thrived on the break.

In the closing minutes, Nixon scored five straight to keep Sheffield in it against Leicester, which allowed the Sharks two possessions to go for the win. But the Riders’ defence stood firm, forcing misses from Pipkins and Malek Green with less than a minute on the clock. 

While the Riders entered the game with one of the highest powered offences in the League, they’ll need consistent performances on the defensive end to go all the way in the Playoffs.

In that respect, they’ll be encouraged from Game One.

Shooting struggles

The opening game followed the trend set by the regular season series between these two sides. The two games played in Sheffield this year saw the teams duel out closely fought affairs, with the Riders struggling offensively compared to their performances at home. 

In game one of the season series in November, the Riders shot 5-21 from three in a loss, and they suffered an even worse shooting slump in the playoff opener. 

It was a 6-26 game from behind the three point line, but the Riders overcame their struggles by generating offence at the rim and in transition. 

Game two in December put an end to the Riders’ difficulties from deep. They went 51% in a blowout win. Leicester will hope to see a similar pattern unfold in the playoffs, and be able to rely on their three point shooting at home. 

Riders bring the cavalry

The Riders’ travelling crowd got them over the line, packing the stands in Sheffield to get behind the team. 

Holmes said post-game that he felt the energy from the stands:

“It was a huge victory for us, and we wouldn’t have done it without the fans,” said Holmes. “They were tremendous. They fuel us when they come and support us, so to have this many people come out and show up for us truly means a lot to me and the guys in the locker room.”

Paternostro also complimented the away crowd, and called out to Riders fans to bring the same noise to Leicester for Game Two. 

“Our fans were amazing today. It was an incredible job from them right behind the bench, and we need more of that at the Mattioli Arena on Saturday!”

The team need the same noise at the Mattioli Arena on Saturday. The Riders host Game Two on May 4, at 6:45 pm.

Tickets are on sale now, and include entry to the women’s playoff opener against Essex Rebels at 2:45 pm.

The first 1,200 fans through the door will receive a free “Dark Horse” T-Shirt. 

Get yours tickets here!