THERE'S a saying in basketball – if you live by the three, you die by the three – and the Cheshire Phoenix were slain at Wright Robinson College.
The Manchester Giants claimed a 94-78 victory largely thanks to the Phoenix putting up poor three point efforts that missed when the home side were giving up easy looks inside the paint.
Yes they were on the road, which is tough, yes it was a derby match and yes they were missing Jerome Gumbs who had fallen ill with a bug the previous night but too often they opted to shoot the three with plenty of time on the shot clock and Jeff Jones' Giants struggling to defend the interior.
The result is a significant blow to the revived club's BBL Championship play-off ambitions this season, with the only head to head they are still able to win now being the one against Sheffield Sharks.
In the first quarter both sides exhibited terrible shooting, although the Phoenix were working the ball inside and exposing the hosts.
Both teams exchanged the lead a number of times and the Giants bench even helped out by earning a technical foul which Chez Marks converted into two points from the free throw line.
Stuart Thomson returned to the Wright Robinson Sports College to show his former team what he could do and his opening score, and alley-oop on the break, certainly captured the attention of the crowd, which was bolstered by a healthy travelling contingent of Nix fans.
But at the end of the quarter the Giants began to find their feet on offence and an unanswered six-point run from Callum Jones gave the home side a 19-15 lead.
In the second quarter the Phoenix tried to keep pace with their hosts but they just couldn't knock down their three pointers, with Marks, usually reliable from downtown, frustrated down deep.
Gabe Haskins and Thomson were similarly unsuccessful outside the arc and things got serious when Stefan Gill hit a triple for the home side, laying down a challenge of sorts to teammate Devan Bailey.
The young guard from Helsby took up the challenge and hit three stunning threes in the quarter, with David Watts also getting in on the triple action as the Giants took a 45-31 lead into half time.
Recently the Phoenix have demonstrated a habit of late comebacks, and hopes where that head coach Matt Lloyd could still inspire his side to close the gap and give themselves a chance of a much-needed victory.
And it seemed as if they had got the message as they started the third quarter with a six-point run from Marks and Haskins to tighten things up.
But the Giants had their three point shooting locked in while when the Phoenix tried to fall back on it, they were off.
Only Stuart Thomson found his range, scoring a couple, but if that was how the Nix planned to get out of the hole, they needed a lot more threes from a lot more players to catch-up.
A few times in the quarter they closed in on the Giants, but that was when they drove into the paint, as the home side's heavy-duty big men struggled to deal with the mobility of Marks, Haskins and agile centre Alif Bland.
By the start of the final period the Giants still led by 10 and hopes were fading. As the Phoenix put together small runs of scoring, the Giants always found a score of their own to manage the gap.
And as the clock ran down, the Nix shots began to bounce out as the result became clear.
After the game Lloyd was massively disappointed.
“That's one of the ones you have to take on the chin, we didn't turn up to play really,” he said. “They just came out and they were hungrier than we were. Obviously we were missing Jerome which didn't help but that's the toughest result to take so far I think.
“Manchester came with a gameplan of taking Gabe's influence out of the game early on. Previously other teams have done that and Jerome has then took over the reins but not having him messed with our balance.”
He acknowledged that the Nix were hurt by their unsuccessful three point shooting, something he didn't want to see.
“There's a risk if you take an outside shot. Our gameplan isn't to take a lot of outside shots and we did. We were 0 for 10 in the first half so it was proof there that it wasn't dropping for us but we kept shooting and we ended up with a 22% shooting rate from outside which was poor but we shouldn't be doing that anyway.
“I can't put my finger on why we didn't stick with shooting inside because it was working. The old saying is 'if it ain't broke don't fix it' so it's frustrating that we went on good runs inside and then we'd jack up a three and fuel their offence and their run on us.
“It's another head to head that we've lost and the only one that we've got left potentially is the one against Sheffield. We've lost the ones against Durham, London and these guys so in terms of making the play-offs it's going to be tough. We have Sheffield twice, we have Surrey Heat three times so we've still got tough games ahead that we've got to win but in terms of making the play-off's, it's going to be a tough ask but we'll try our hardest to get into those spots.”
The Phoenix are now monitoring Jerome Gumbs in the hope the versatile forward/guard will recover in time for Sunday's BBL Trophy semi final, first leg against Sheffield Sharks at the Northgate Arena (5.30pm)
“We'll wait and see. Hopefully it will be a short bout of food poisoning he's picked up and he will be back.