A big fourth quarter catapulted Leicester Riders to a season treble by edging London Lions 78-75 at the O2.
A BBL Playoff final that featured the very best of what British basketball can offer played in-front of a crowd of 15,824. Both teams left everything on the floor in a nailbiting slugfest.
It was closely fought throughout, but Leicester took the initiative when it mattered.
A 13-0 run, en route to taking the final ten minutes 21-10 ultimately sealed the win for the Riders.
“What a game,” said Riders coach Rob Paternostro afterwards. “I think when you come here for this big event, you want a great game and we got that today.
“I thought that the nine players that played today made a contribution and that’s been all year for us.”
Player of the Year, Geno Crandall led Leicester with 23 points, seven rebounds and five assists as he added Playoff finals MVP to his bulging cabinet.
“It must’ve been a great game to watch, we were fortunate to play our game well at the end of the game today,” Crandall said.
“We’ve had different guys step up at different times and my time came at the end of the game. I was able to get some really good looks, those shots that didn’t go in earlier, did go in later.
“We got in a lot of good positions and thankfully I was able to do my thing when it mattered most. I think as the game goes on the playbook gets a little shorter, make a few less passes and get the ball in your best players hands.”
A successful season for this Leicester side, who backed up their dominant league season with a stunning playoff campaign, showing that they were head and shoulders above the rest.
For London, despite battling to the final seconds will see this season as a massive disappointment. A domestic campaign, that saw them finish without a trophy despite a strong roster and deep pockets.
It will certainly be an interesting off-season in the capital as Lions will regroup and recharge.
Isaiah Reese led all scorers but in vain with 29 points.
Lions certainly had a strong home-town following and they started hot. Scores from Reese and Julian Washburn gave them a 19-11 lead, which was soon extended to 27-17.
Riders began to show their championship credentials in the second period by wearing down the Lions and getting their points from the foul line, eventually taking the lead and maintaining it heading into the third.
But London, eager to impress the loud home following inside the O2 found a higher gear and instigated by seven points in the quarter from Lorenzo Cugini, enjoyed a 61-51 lead.
Leicester chipped away slowly and at the start of the fourth made their move. A 13-0 run put them on top again as London couldn’t buy a bucket.
Nearly six minutes into the final quarter passed when the energetic Chris Taiwah muscled his way for a three-point play to score London’s first field goal and keep them interested.
Crandall though stepped up with big plays to take Riders over the line, despite a huge scare in the last seconds.
It was Crandall himself that took care of business, intercepting a pass from Reese who was looking to get a shot off to potentially take the game to overtime.
Photo: Mansoor Ahmed