By Ian Shalapata
(WINDSOR, ON) – The game was downtown and 2,800 fans showed up. For the first time ever, a pro basketball game was held in a Canadian casino as Caesars Windsor hosted the match-up between the hometown Express and the visiting London Lightning last night.
NBL Commissioner Paul Riley commented on the apparent preference of fans for the casino as a basketball venue.
“I think the challenge for the Express is where they play,” Riley told local media. “If your arena is outside the core, and fans find it hard to trek to, they won’t go. If you provide the same thing downtown, the people come.”
The spectacle was the event. Never before has a pro-sporting event been held at Caesars and it was an opportunity to see and be seen. The game, with first place in the National Basketball League of Canada, was almost an afterthought.
Trailing London by a half game in the standings, Windsor opened the tilt with a basket by the team’s all-time leading scorer, Chris Commons. For the opening quarter the teams traded baskets until Windsor edged away, and led 24-17 at the buzzer. By the end of the half, Windsor had built up a 21 point lead, and all seemed to be well in hand.
London showed why they have won two NBL championships in a row, and outscored the Express in the third by a 12-point margin. And although getting to within three points in the final frame, Windsor dug down deep and prevailed by a score of 86-78.
Quinnel Brown and Stefan Bonneau led all Windsor scorers with 21 points each. Brown earned himself a double-double by adding 12 rebounds. The London police were looking for Brown and Bonneau, who also had four and five steals on the night, respectively. Brown was named the outstanding player of the game.
Darren Duncan had a strong game at point guard for Windsor. He dropped 14 points and dished off eight times for the Express. Additionally, forward Kevin Loiselle was rebounder of the night, pulling down 14 boards; 11 defensive. He also had a timely block on a late-game London fast break, which had the fans out of their seats.
With the win, Windsor moved into sole possession of first place in the NBL, a full game ahead of London and Brampton. The Express will next meet Brampton at 7:00 on Saturday, back at their regular home.