BRADFORD Dragons were left wondering what might have been after an agonising 82-78 defeat in their National Basketball League Division One opener.

Travelling to face the Thames Valley Cavaliers, last season's beaten play-off semi-finalists proved to be a stern test of the Dragons' early-season credentials, in a clash that went down to the wire.

The visitors opened up with a new-look starting five of Rafi Saipe, Jermayne Laing, Rihards Šulcs, Ricky Fetske, and experienced addition Albert Margai.

The Cavaliers were quickest out of the blocks and got the scoring under way with a five-point run from talisman Martelle McLemore.

Bradford responded well with two nifty lay-ups from long-time stalwart Šulcs, and a mid-range jump shot from Fetske put the visitors in the ascendency for the first time.

But the hosts then began to take control of proceedings and with McLemore leading from the front, the Cavaliers broke into a 15-point lead as the first quarter came to a close.

Thames Valley's lead ballooned to 17 with 5.26 left in the second period, but Bradford responded emphatically the rest of the way.

The visitors went on a 20-8 run in the final five minutes of the half, and headed into the locker room 45-40 down at the interval.

The third quarter was a much tighter affair, with both teams going bucket for bucket, as neither team led by more than nine points.

Down 58-52, the Dragons went on a 10-2 run entirely from their bench.

New recruit Dave Walsh got things under way with a three. That was quickly followed by an emphatic dunk from Allie Fullah and by the time Andreas Lycoudis converted a free-throw line pull-up jump shot, the Cavaliers' lead had been slashed to 60-59.

Then, with the shot clock turned off and the game clock winding down, Thames Valley's Blayne Freckleton launched the ball into the Dragons half hoping for a miracle play by a team-mate, but only found Lycoudis.

He heaved the ball from inside his half for a miraculous buzzer-beater, giving the Dragons an unlikely lead heading into the final quarter.

Following a Margai three and four points from Šulcs, Bradford opened up an early seven-point lead in the fourth quarter, but Thames Valley flipped the game on its head.

With Freckleton leading the way, the hosts went five in front, and although Fetske pulled the score back to 80-78, Hakeem Sylla's 10th rebound of the game closed out a four-point win for the Cavaliers.

Head coach Chris Mellor said: "We dug ourselves a big hole early but played well in quarters two and three.

"We had a chance at the end but a big three from them and a couple of missed block outs were the decisive plays in the last few minutes."

The Dragons are back in action next Saturday at 3pm, as they travel to take on the Leicester Warriors.

The opening home game of the season is against the Essex & Herts Leopards. That takes place at the Dragons Den the following weekend on Saturday, October 12 at 6:15pm.