Basketball: Giants recover to get better of Bullets

MANCHESTER GIANTS kept their Wembley dream alive at the MEN Arena with a 78-71 win over Birmingham Bullets, and their Budweiser Championship play-off quarter-final series will now be decided by tomorrow night's decisive game.

The series between London Towers and Newcastle Eagles also goes to the third game tomorrow after the Towers' 91-76 victory last night.

Bullets' three-point specialist Tony Simms sat out the game against the Giants with a hand injury, and they then lost Fabulous Flournay for half of the action with a dislocated finger. Yet the Bullets closed the half with an 11-2 run for a 36-32 interval lead.

The Bullets shot at only 39 per cent in the first half but Manchester kept them in the game by committing 13 turnovers. Bullets then found their shooting range with Nigel Lloyd, Regi Kirk (twice), then Chris Webber scoring from three-point range with the Giants coach, Nick Nurse, watching from an executive box serving the second of a two-game ban.

Emiko Etete stepped in to Bullets' depleted ranks with four jump shots, an offensive tip and two free throws to open a 44-34 Bullets lead and prompted a Giants time out. Their assistant coach Dave Gardner, standing in for Nurse, pleaded with the players: "Play with some energy. If we don't win this, we go home." At last the Giants responded.

A free throw from Makeeba Perry heralded a 16-4 run over five minutes, including three-pointers from John White and Tony Holley, for a 54-52 third-quarter Giants lead. Giants lived on free throws for the first six minutes of the fourth, but led 63-58 when Holley finally hit a field goal and converted the bonus.

Etete's free throws brought Bullets back to trail 66-65, but Lloyd's three-point miss and a turnover by Kirk, who scored only one point in the second half, let the Giants escape to press home their home court advantage tomorrow night.

Hillsborough, the Sheffield Wednesday ground at the centre of attention this week on the 10th anniversary of the football disaster, is the base for the Greater London Leopards ahead of tonight's play-off quarter-final at Ponds Forge.

The Leopards, beaten 100-82 by the Sheffield Sharks on Wednesday, hope that their choice of practice venue will give them a decisive edge in their final encounter. Hillsborough's facilities include a full-sized basketball court with a sprung wooden floor.

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