Leicester Riders and London Lions will face off in the BBL Playoff final at the O2 Arena on Sunday.
On paper, the two strongest teams in the league. However, while Leicester have proved their worth this season, winning the league and BBL Cup. For London, it’s a chance to finally end on a high note having largely underwhelmed despite a plethora of talent.
Yes, the Lions flew the flag for British basketball with pride in the FIBA Europe Cup. But since their exit in the second round, have been largely inconsistent in the league, much to the frustration of its fans.
However, the post-season has showcased what London Lions can achieve with a mixture of entertaining, never-say-die, team basketball that will pose a threat to Leicester if they play how they have been throughout the playoffs.
But despite London’s strong form, Riders will start as favourites. A strong 25-2 record for the season, they achieved a BBL record-winning margin of 16 points between them and second placed Sheffield Sharks.
The players have all bought into Riders head coach Rob Paternostro’s mantra of team basketball. At no point during the season did Leicester drop their heads and start playing as individuals.
It’s been a well-oiled machine all season long. And it’s hardly surprising that the Riders are competing in their fourth Playoff final in the last five seasons.
“It feels great,” Paternostro said. “These games are awkward, no doubt but we handled our business.”
Paternostro continued: “This team deserves to be in the final. They’ve been consistent all year, they’ve come to work everyday so it should be a great day on Sunday in London.”
How the two teams made it to the Playoff final
London Lions booked their place in Sunday’s showpiece after a strong fourth quarter performance over Bristol Flyers in the second leg.
Friday’s first game in Bristol saw the Lions take a slender two-point lead into the second leg (85-83) after Julian Washburn’s late score. But heading to the capital on Sunday, it was anyone’s game.
The Flyers – who came back from 12 points down in the first leg of their quarter-final against Manchester Giants – would have taken confidence and inspiration from a 78-74 win in their last league encounter against London in April.
After a shaky start, London regrouped and led by talisman, Isaiah Reese, who went for 28 points, eight rebounds and eight assists, Lions managed to keep their noses in front on aggregate with a 31-18 final period sealing a 91-73 win and a 176-156 win overall.
For Leicester, they brushed aside Glasgow Rocks 104-78 in the second leg on Monday night, following up on their 105-84 first leg success in Scotland on Saturday for a 209-162 win overall.
Geno Crandall, who recently won the Basketball Journalists Association Player of the Year award for a second straight year, showed why he is considered one of the best players in the BBL with 22 points and eight assists, following on from his incredible 32-point, 11-assist double-double from the first leg.
Photo: British Basketball League