Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Lakers alive


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Who said André Lockhart was done?
Probably those who thought the same of these Premier League finals.
The champs are still alive, just like their star point guard, after the beleaguered basketballer rebounded from a career-worst effort to score 21 second half points of a decisive 54-29 burst in Lumber Company Lakers’ series-saving 80-55 Game 3 rout of Warrens at the Wildey Gym on Tuesday.
It was the much needed performance for defending champions who were stunningly facing elimination following two successive last-second heartbreakers – just the latest in Lakers’ long line of agonizing play-off nail-bitters.
Warrens now have their own chain of woes to consider, though, with the loss dropping them to 0-4 lifetime in close-out games against an opponent who knocked them out the last two postseasons.
And this latest collapse came with their very first top-flight title on the line.
But just like their issues of finishing off Lakers, so too Warrens found it impossible to close out Lockhart.
Almost identical to his all-time Game 1 performance, the star floor general took over down the stretch with a spectacular display of one-on-one play, working his pull-up jumper off the dribble to near perfection for ten third quarter points and a further 11 in the fourth.
It proved the turning point of a game – and possibly the series – that Lakers previously struggled offensively in a tentative 26-point first-half effort that left them level with their St Michael neighbours following 20 minutes of forgettable basketball.
However, Keefe Birkett and Ricardo Jemmott finally provided Lakers with the offensive punch missing until now in the finals. The former sank two treys and another long jumper while the latter added three telling drives to put Lakers up 45-37.
And what they started, Lockhart was only too eager to finish.
With Game 2’s pitiful three-point showing clearly in mind, the under-fire star was the one that put Warrens under the gun, joining the foray with two lay-ups before drilling his defenders with a series of pull-up jumpers off the secondary break (53-41).
But what initially began as Lakers pushing the tempo ultimately turned into a full open court attack, as Warrens failed to get back in transition to stop Ian Alexander’s subsequent dunk and a Jemmott “and-one” layup that opened a 59-41 advantage.
Had it not been for Kevin Austin’s brief retaliation the lead would’ve gone past 30, with Alexander and Adrian Allman’s long jumpers preceding yet another surreal string of Lockhart buckets.
And none were better than the free throw line jump shot that came off a stunning in-and-out cross, before Lockhart thrilled the crowd again by crossing up Greig Springer and then up-faking the swingman out of his shoes for another long jumper.
The eventual 54-29 run was the startling finish to a contest that Lakers started so tentatively while Jemmott scored all but three of the team’s lowly 12 first quarter points in his first start this season.
Warrens didn’t look much better in the ensuing second, though, despite remaining committed to chasing every opposing guard off the line while contesting each shot and making life difficult for Lockhart.
However, that defensive intensity took its toll at the other end, as Warrens got little to nothing going offensively while Lakers threw multiple looks – and defenders – at a gassed Peter Alleyne.
Warrens then truly ran out of steam in the second half while their St Michael neighbours relentlessly forced the issue off each missed shot and turnover.
Jemmott had a game-high 26 points and 12 rebounds, Lockhart added 25 points and seven assists while Birkett scored ten. For Warrens, who still own a 2-1 lead with two more chances to win their debut title, Kevin Austin was the lone player in double digits, with 14 points.
But just when the finals were picking up steam, basketball’s big showcase has been put on ice as the five-game series is expected to go on a more than week-long hiatus.
Barbados Amateur Basketball Association (BABA) president Derrick Garrett said the decision was made to accommodate Warrens centre Pearson Griffith, who is leaving the island today as the coach of a junior national team that is contesting the Under-16 Centrobasket tournament in El Salvador.

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