Newcastle Eagles completed their third domestic sweep in history after beating London Lions 96-84 in the British Basketball League Playoff final in front of a crowd of 14,700 at the O2 Arena in England’s capital.
In what was supposed to be a highly anticipated match-up between volume scorers Rahmon Fletcher of Newcastle and Zaire Taylor of London ended up being no contest as Eagles’ lightening quick guard blitzed through the Lions’ defensive line by scoring 23 points, nine assists and six rebounds to win the Playoff MVP.
“At the end of the day, we got veteran on our team and we were very consistent so we stayed the course,” Fletcher said. “We took their first punch and we punched harder.”
Regular season MVP Charles Smith led the Eagles with 24 points, but this was Fletcher’s moment.
Darius Defoe capped off a fine season for him by adding 18 points for the winners.
GB international Drew Sullivan led all scorers for the Lions with 27 points as free scoring Zaire Taylor was held to nine points on 2/12 shooting.
That was a contrast to last season, where Taylor went for 30 points to lead the Worcester Wolves to a Playoff victory over Newcastle at Wembley.
And that feat remained in Eagles coach Fabulous Flournoy’s mind ever since.
“The biggest thing that we wanted to do is not fall into the trap of some of the other teams within the Playoffs that was to trying to get into scoring races and we wanted to be a team. Credit to Zaire for what did in the post-season, but I didn’t want a repeat of the performance he put on us last year.”
Both teams took full advantage of the occasion presented to them with Sullivan inspiring the Lions to an early 16-10 lead mid-way through the first period.
The Eagles though matched the pace set by London as they found a way back into the game, thanks to Smith to tie it up at 24-24 after one.
From the opening plays of the second, the Lions struggled to find their shooting touch from the opening exchanges and the Eagles took full advantage as they managed to maintain a lead throughout with thanks to eight points from Charles Smith to go with his seven in the first, Newcastle enjoyed a 49-39 lead at the half.
And it got better and better for the Eagles as they eased to a 7-0 run and take a 62-44 cushion as Rahmon Fletcher proved too much for the home town Lions in the open court as Newcastle opened up a 74-55 advantage.
After not scoring at all from the field, Zaire Taylor finally broke his cold run as he scored the Lions’ first six points of the final quarter, looking to spark a comeback early.
And it looked to have the desired effect for those initial exchanges, but the Eagles, without breaking into much of a sweat, had the answers, like the true champions that they’ve played like all season long, a punctuating dunk with 2:36 remaining from Darius Defoe off the miss by Andrew Lasker was the exclamation point on a ground-breaking afternoon.