They are the champions
London Community News
By Jonathon Brodie/London Community News
Photos by Mike Maloney/London Community New
It took a few games for the London Lightning to find their spark again, but they did so — just in time — in the final quarter of game five to win 116-92 and claim the inaugural National Basketball League of Canada championship.
After losing games three and four against the Halifax Rainmen on the road to even the series, London looked prepared even before Sunday’s (March 25) tip-off by slapping hands and bumping chests with authority rather than their jovial dancing during warmups.
“The better team won today,” said Lightning guard Eddie Smith, finishing the day with 20 points. “The bottom line is, we turned them up every which way but loose.”
London only led 81-77 against Halifax going into the fourth quarter, but a 13-0 run by the Lightning in the opening four minutes proved to be the killer for the Rainmen who only scored 15 points in the final frame.
The 5, 106 in attendance were on their feet for the last 12 minutes making a noise sounding like constant thunder and it was London guard’s DeAnthony Bowden, Rodney Buford and Smith providing the lightning. Between the three players, they scored 29 of London’s 35 points in the fourth quarter giving plenty of reasons for Buford (a.k.a. the Sheriff) to break out the imaginary guns.
“It feels great. I started the season in Halifax and finished the season in London with a championship, it doesn’t get much better than that,” Buford said.
The 34-year-old ball player opened his season wearing a Rainmen jersey, but was traded early in the season where his veteran skill was no doubt a big help to the Lightning in those final minutes to capture the title.
“There was no pressure, it was just being able to get out there,” he added.
A sense of relief for the Lightning and their fans even before London went on their fourth quarter tear came at the end of the third, when the team maintained their four point lead from halftime.
Heading into game five the Rainmen had outscored the Lightning 106-68 in third quarter’s of the championship series.
In the end, the Lightning put their playoff woes behind them and when the party started it was black and yellow confetti they dropped on the crowd.
“It came back to the city and it was for a good cause because London got to see us win a championship,” said Lightning Gabe Freeman, with 22 points in the game, second on the team behind Bowden with 28.
Freeman predicted after the second game that it would be the team’s last play at the John Labatt Centre for the season and even though he had to come back one more time in a nail-biting championship, he’s not complaining.
The extra game gave a chance for the league’s most valuable player’s father to see his son win another title in-person.
“Every championship my father has been there for me. Everywhere, in every part of the different countries,” said Freeman, winning two championships for the San Miguel Beermen in the Philippine Basketball Association. His father was present for both of them, making the trip from his home in Arizona. He certainly wasn’t missing his son’s first North American title.
“It’s a blessing to have my father here,” said the player now dubbed MV-Free by London fans. “He’s been with me since day one and this is the reason why I do it.”