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Raleigh Firebirds Defeat Rocket City Flight 127-115 in Season Opener

In their first game of the season, the Raleigh Firebirds defeated the Rocket City Flight, 127-115. The Firebirds were missing several key players due to minor injuries throughout training camp and the ramp-up to the season, but even without their full roster, they had more than enough power to win. It also helped that the Flight were missing half of their players, and only had a rotation of seven.

The Firebirds won the jump ball but turned the ball over after 10 seconds. However, the clock wasn't stopped once the ball went out of bounds. There was a brief stoppage of the game in order to fix the clock, and then play resumed.

The Firebirds started the game off a bit slow. Both Daequon Antoine and Shaq Dance (usually starters) weren't playing due to respective injuries, and aside from it being the first game of the season, the starting five hadn't had much time playing together. The Flight scored first, but Dreko Palmer countered with a tough drive and finish. Both teams were hot from three; the Flight were hitting everything from the start of the game, and the Firebirds responded in kind after a few minutes.

However, as the quarter continued, the Flight's luck from three began to fade. The Firebirds shot fewer threes, but their shots tended to be less contested.

With about four minutes left in the first, Tre Gray checked into the game for his first minutes as a Firebird. During his first possession, he penetrated, drove the lane, and threw up a beautiful lob to Antonio Spencer for the first dunk of the season. On the other end, he took a charge to get the Firebirds possession, really shifting the energy. Two plays later, he had a full-court skip pass to Palmer, who scored. Palmer and Abdullah continued to hit threes, with Abdullah's last being a buzzer-beater to end the quarter. The Firebirds led 36-24.

The second quarter featured lots of back and forth action between both teams. Darius Leonard, who first checked in at the start of the second quarter, noted to me that the team was committing too many turnovers, seemingly possession after possession. Still, whenever the team got a good look at a shot, it went in far more often than it didn't.

One scary moment in the game was when Dreko Palmer got hit and went down. From my viewpoint, it looked like an opposing player poked him in the eye; however, when I talked to him after he subbed out, he told me it was his neck that got hit. Fortunately, he went back in later in the game and was fine. Gray continued doing an excellent job at point, and on one play, blew by the entire Flight team bringing the ball up the court and scored on an and-one. Soon after, an action packed play ensued where Abdullah nailed a transition three, and Gray got a steal on the other end. By halftime, the Firebirds led 65-57. Abdullah accounted for 17 of the team's points, and Palmer had 12.

The third quarter could only be described as sloppy basketball as best, with the Firebirds failing several times to get back in transition defense. Every time the Firebirds scored or missed, it seemed like they never had all their players on the defensive end, and they kept getting scored on as a result. The Flight tied the game with just under eight minutes left to play in the third, as they kept knocking down shots. However, the momentum began to shift once Darius Leonard checked into the game and hit a big three. After that, Gray began knocking down shot after shot, willing the Firebirds to take a lead once more. By the end of the third quarter, the Firebirds led 97-87.

The fourth quarter was more back and forth. However, the Firebirds continued to hit their shots and drive in for layups, while the Flight weren't able to get much offense going. Finally, the Firebirds started getting back on defense, and playing five against five, the Flight couldn't get the easy baskets that they were before.

With about five and a half minutes left in the game, the momentum started to shift in favor of the Firebirds. Will Vedder kept hitting these beautiful mid-range shots, and Donte Tatum couldn't be stopped on his drives to the rim. It became clear that the Firebirds would pull out the victory...when an unexpected foe stepped in the way.

No, it wasn't the other team; it was the refs! They had been making questionable calls for both teams throughout the game. However, the call that put everyone over the edge was with a few minutes left in the fourth. Inbounding the ball, the Flight stepped over the sideline, and the ref whistled. This was a clear call: a turnover, and Firebirds' possession. However, the ref decided that since the Flight were down by double digits, he was going to give them a redo! Players and Firebird fans alike were outraged. It ultimately didn't effect the outcome of the game, but still, it wasn't a great moment.

Once the buzzer sounded, the final score was 127-115, and the Firebirds were 1-0. The next home game is this upcoming Friday, March 8th, at 7 PM. Be sure to show up and show out; the first evening game of the season is always an amazing time!

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