The energy inside Budweiser Gardens was palpable for the London Lightning home opener Saturday (Nov. 2) but the defending champs left still looking for win one.
The new-look Lightning hoisted their 2012-13 National Basketball League of Canada (NBLC) championship banner before the game but fell behind early to the visiting Mississauga Power, and despite a second-half surge, lost 99-97.
The Lightning were up by as many as 12 in the second half, up 77-65 at the end of the third quarter, but turnovers and missed layups allowed the Power to creep back into the game.
The Power lived and died by the three in the second half, responding to a charging Lightning squad with a crowd-quieting shot from behind the arc after a number of London momentum-builders, including dunks from Garrett Williamson and Marvin Phillips.
It’s a stat that has to sting for the Lightning, who are ranked first in the NBL in three-point percentage and second in three-point defence, holding the Windsor Express to .304 from beyond the arc in the first game of the season on Friday (Nov. 1).
After the game Lightning general manager Taylor Brown said no one in the organization is panicking two games into the season, but his team needs to be more careful with the ball.
“We still have trust in our guys that we’ve brought in,” he said. “It’s two games in to the season. We’re not panicking yet, we’ve got to make some changes offensively and defensively as a roster and come together as a team."
He said the near-capacity crowd at the home opener might have been a distraction for some of the newer players. As many as 3,000 children and their families were given passes by the Lightning, Jumpstart and the YMCA ahead of the home opener and the Lightning tweeted afterward that the 7,684 attendance figure is a new NBL record.
You’ve got a big crowd, it’s the home opener, there’s a lot of jitters and we’ve got some new guys that aren’t used to this but we’ll come together as a team,” Brown said. “It was a great atmosphere, we’ve got some great guys on our team and now we’ve got to gel together.”
He said those jitters might have impacted the team’s new guards, brought in to shore up the Lightning’s perimeter defence.
“We’ve got to get our guards playing a little bit better defence,” he said. “We were looking to get a little bit younger and a little bit faster but we’ve got some veteran guys to pick up the young guys and we’ll go back to the drawing board, as they say.”
But the Lightning did show fight in the middle portion of the game and beat the Power on the glass. They almost secured the comeback with a last second steal from a baseline inbound play, but Garrett Williamson missed a three pointer from the top of the key.
He tried to initiate some contact with the defender, but the referees weren’t about to let the game be decided at the free throw line.
Veteran Tim Ellis, with 17 rebounds and 17 points, and newcomer Williamson, who “played like a veteran,” stood out for Brown.
The Lightning play host to the Ottawa Skyhawks next Saturday (Nov. 9).