Rockets Head to Manchester

Derby Trailblazers 84 v 87 Reading Rockets

With an outstanding display of team basketball coupled to guts and determination, Rockets defeated the league champions and KitKing Trophy winners in their own back garden to progress to their second final of the season with a narrow victory 87-84. 

Rockets scored first as Reis Pinnock stroked a treble but the hosts replied likewise immediately. A Lewis Champion treble followed by a Christian Alexnader slam edged Rockets ahead but a 7-0 Trailblazers run saw them take the opening period 26-19 and seemingly comfortable in front of a packed arena where Rockets huge support echoed throughout the game giving the guys encouragement. And how they responded in the second quarter as Head Coach Samit Nuruzade unleashed a torrent of offensive plays and strong defence to take the second quarter 37 – 12, a 25 point turnaround leaving the hosts shocked at the interval. This was as good a quarter as Rockets home quarter final opening one 33-6 the previous weekend and thoroughly deserved as only Derby’s Malcolm Smith was at his best to the break hitting 16 of their 38 tally . Captain Champion stroked 4 trebles in his 17 points ably assisted by Zack Powell hitting his best form of the season to date with 11 points.  Aussie Mitch Clarke hit 9 points but gave 5 assists including the arrow pass to Elijah Maynard for him to join the party. Jermiah Jenkins finished a superb Rockets play with a treble and seeing the visitors with a 11-0 run tearing the heart out of the league champions who were going for their third trophy of the season but were bowed at the interval as Rockets finished it with 10 trebles to Derby’s pair.     

Elijah Maynard of Reading Rockets. Derby Trailblazers VS Reading Rockets in NBL playoff action.

However the 18 point deficit ( 56-38 ) was to be challenged as such a talented and successful team as Derby in front of their home fans weren’t going to lie down, fought tenaciously and took the third quarter 23-15 despite Rockets scoring first and giving them a 20 point lead at 58-38 . Three trebles helped enormously as did Pinnock finding himself in personal foul trouble quickly followed by power forward Chris Alexander receiving his fourth foul. This restricted Rockets defence without the speed of Pinnock and the enormous presence defensively of Alexander.  Trailblazers made hay during this time to see the game moving in their favour at 61-71 as the last period beckoned. 

Could Rockets hold out for victory or would the juggernaut of Trailblazers pip them at the post ? The hosts hit the opening point to get the deficit into single figures but Fin Porter also scored from the free throw line before a brace of key scores from Powell coupled to Clarke taking a charge as Derby tried to score inside re-energised Rockets. Unfortunately Porter was fouled out but Powell made a steal and a slam edging Rockets 14 ahead at the midway point 78-64.  Back came Derby with 4 unanswered points though again Jenkins hit a crucial treble to re-assert Rockets with a 12 point lead. Corey Johnson lit up the arena for Derby as Smith continued to be a handful for Rockets defence as Johnson hit 20 of his 29 points in the second half of the game and Smith added 9 to his personal tally taking him to 25 points. 

Derby Trailblazers VS Reading Rockets in NBL playoff action.

The tension was electric. The noise deafening as Derby moved from 61-71 behind, were making their shots and Rockets missing a couple of easy ones. Both teams sored regularly but a Derby treble took the score to 82-78 with just over two and a half minutes remaining and a depleted Rockets fighting for all their worth to hold on and take the precious win.  Maynard stroked a treble to see Rockets lead by 7 with 1 minute 24 secs on the clock. Derby matched the treble and Alexander scored from the free throw line to see Rockets 5 up  with 45.1 secs left. Derby hit a brace of free throws to trail by 3 with 19.6 secs to go and Head Coach Samit Nuruzade called his troops in for a last time-out and one minute break from Derby’s onslaught. Jenkins converted from the penalty stripe as did the hosts seconds later but with 3.5 secs remaining , Rockets held on to the ball to move into the Play-off Championship Final against last seasons all conquering Hemel Storm at Manchester on Sun 28th tipping at 4 pm

Though a magnificent victory engineered by the tactically astute Nuruzade, the team left nothing on the court, they were all exhausted but delirious with the deserved win as 5 of them hit double figures