Mersey Tigers coach Tony Garbelotto has praised his paper-thin squad after they reached the BBL play-off semi-finals with just six senior players at the weekend.
The treble-chasing Tigers, looking to add to their BBL Championship and BBL Trophy successes from earlier in the season, saw off Leicester Riders in an intense double header to set up a last four clash with local rivals Cheshire Jets.
They did so without captain Drew Sullivan, who suffered an ankle injury in the final league game of the season against Sheffield, and Perry Lawson, who has been missing with an injured shoulder.
Garbelotto said: “Our guys are on their last legs. I don’t know what else to say.
“We’ve got Jamaal (Williams) who isn’t like a Drew Sullivan who can run up and down the court for 40 minutes, but he’s played something like 78 minutes over the two games. James Jones and Nate (Reinking) almost went the whole game.
“I told the guys that their heart and desire is unsurpassed. They showed so much heart – the heart of a champion really.”
Garbelotto was also full of praise for the Riders and his opposite number Rob Paternostro after two high-intensity games which the Tigers edged 89-86 and 92-90.
He added: “I know Rob really well, he’s a passionate guy, and his team was unbelievable. They kept coming back and building momentum. They gave us a cushion and then they still didn’t quit.
“They’ve had a really strong season, they’ve been way better than their ranking shows but they’ve had a lot of problems to deal with. I take my hat off to how Rob prepared his team because they came to win.”
The Tigers travel to face Cheshire Jets at Northgate Arena on Saturday (7.30pm tip) before hosting the return leg at the John Amaechi Centre in Manchester on Sunday (6pm).