‘No sulking’ says resolute Manchester Giants coach Jeff Jones with playoffs in sight

When you’re in a dogfight for the last remaining playoff spot, one thing you don’t want to do is lose to the bottom-placed team in the league.

But that’s exactly what the Manchester Giants did on Sunday – surrendering a last-minute lead to fall to an agonising 90-89 defeat in a must-win clash at Surrey United.

But, somehow, coach Jeff Jones is keeping a stiff upper-lip, resolutely denying the spread of doom and/or gloom throughout the team.

“Look, we still have a great shot for the playoffs,” Jones told MM, “Yes, it was disappointing to lose to Surrey. We probably should have won but we have to move on to the next games.

“Are we going to beat ourselves up about it or are we going to continue to fight to get into the playoffs? Because if we sulk we won’t win any more games for the rest of the year.”

Jones does have a point. His team aren’t struggling for a lack of effort, nor a never-say-die attitude. Their problem is that they can’t close out tight games, probably because of a shortfall in top-tier experience.

And it’s also true the Giants aren’t licked yet, to borrow an American sporting turn of phrase. And it ain’t over ‘til it’s over, if you’ll permit another.

They have three games in hand on the Bristol Flyers, who are just two points ahead of the Trafford side in the race for the final postseason spot.

If anything, they could still catch the Sheffield Sharks, two wins ahead of the Giants, for seventh spot, giving their April 17 clash huge significance.

And Jones does have a point when he says the media – including this reporter and his esteemed colleagues at competing regional outlets – are too hard on his side.

Given he has the league’s smallest budget by far, it’s a minor miracle they’re even in the playoff conversation.

Even lowly Surrey – who’ve racked up six fewer wins than the Giants – have almost twice Jones’ budget. But don’t for a second think he’ll use that as an excuse.

“It’s an extremely difficult situation, and I’m not trying to make any kind of excuses and we’re still right in it,” he said.

“But we don’t have the quality at the moment – whether it’s experience at this level or what – to close games like these out.”

In fact, for the coach whose only edict was to make his team competitive with their much more moneyed rivals, it’s a point of pride his team’s still in with a shout of playing in May.

“If you’d have told people we’d get either seventh or eighth spot this year, a lot of smart people in basketball would have all laughed in your face,” Jones said.

“At the beginning of the year they all said we weren’t going to win games and we’ve proved them wrong, if nothing else.”

But for all the talk, the Giants still have to show it on the court. It might take a gargantuan effort to make it to the promised land, but Jones’ teams have made a habit of late-season heroics.

They’re cutting it dangerously close, but this weekend’s visit of the Newcastle Eagles, who Jones described as ‘by far and away the best team in the league”, provides them with the ideal opportunity to make a statement.

Ultimately, should they snatch eighth from Bristol, Jones will be lauded as a genius, having achieved the seemingly-impossible. He’d have to be a very strong contender for coach of the year.

However, if they miss out on a playoff berth, expect a reaction from the veteran coach. Not accustomed to watching the action from the outside in, he’d surely make waves in the off-season.

Either way, the Giants’ next few months will be interesting, to say the least.

Main image courtesy of Jack Hinds, with thanks.

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