The London Lightning are National Basketball League Canada champions again, after taking the decisive seventh game 109-101 over the Halifax Hurricanes at Scotiabank Centre in Halifax on Friday night. It is the third consecutive time that the two teams have met in the final, and there hasn’t been much between the two teams in any of the three series. The Lightning won in six games in 2017 and the Hurricanes won a seven-game nail-biter in 2016.
Friday night’s game was close throughout. The two teams were neck-and-neck through three quarters, but the Lightning outscored the Hurricanes 24-17 in the fourth, to earn their second consecutive league title. London were composed and made big shots down the stretch, whereas the Hurricanes went cold, going 0-for-9 from three-point range.
Friday’s win by the Lightning was the only road victory of the series. The final daggers came when the Hurricanes were put in a position of having to immediately foul the Lightning every time they got the ball in the final minute, but Garrett Williamson, Mo Bolden and Doug Herring Jr. went seven of eight from the free-throw line, and snuffed out all Halifax hope.
In a game that stayed tight throughout, Lightning forward Kirk Williams Jr. hit a three-point shot with 2:41 to go in the fourth quarter to turn a one-point London lead into a four-point London lead and the Lightning held from there as a combination of Garrett Williamson, Mo Bolden and Doug Herring Jr. went seven of eight from the free-throw line in the final 1:03 to end the game.
Herring Jr. scored a game-high 29 points, including six three-pointers; none better than the 30-foot three-point buzzer beater at the end of the first half that gave London a 57-53 lead at the break. The London guard also had 11 assists.
“Game 7 on the road, we knew this was going to be an uphill battle,” said Herring Jr. “But we stayed composed and made some huge shots down the stretch and we got it done.”
Lightning forward Garrett Williamson was named championship MVP. He scored 21 points and had eight rebounds in Game Seven.
Kirk Williams Jr. finished with 19 points for London, while Julian Boyd had 17 and Mo Bolden 15 to round out the scoring.
For Halifax, Billy White had 25 points, Tyrone Watson 21 and Cliff Clinkscales had 14 points and 14 assists.
Ironically, as tight as the series was and as little as there was between the two teams – free throws proved the difference in Game Seven. It’s ironic because halifax head Coach Mike Leslie had kicked a fuss earlier in the series about officiating and the number of chances that London got from the stripe. Wether by coincidence, or as a result of that outcry, the officials limited the amount of whistles, and put the Hurricanes at the line 25 times to London’s 20 on Friday.
“We didn’t make the shots and we missed a lot of free throws,” Leslie said after the game. “We were giving up three-pointers and we just kept losing points on them. When you add a few missed free throws on top of it, it compounded the problem.”
London won back-to-back in 2012 and 2013 as well, and now has four NBL Canada championships in the seven-year history of the NBL Canada. They became the first team in NBL league history to win a championship after losing the first two games of the final.
They did it without their suspended star player. They did it in Halifax, where they haven’t played well this year; and in front of a raucous crowd. They did it with a rookie head coach in Keith Vassell – who did a magnificent job of getting the veteran team to the dance.
It is arguably the most impressive of their four championships, and the most earned.
Congratulations on a job well done.