Sheffield Sharks win British Basketball League Playoff final

Sheffield Sharks claimed their first trophy since 2013 with an 84-77 come-from-behind win over Leicester Riders in the BBL Playoff final at the O2 Arena.

Mike Tuck led all scorers with 20 points and also collected 13 rebounds, en route to the MVP award for the Sharks in a colossal turnaround where they looked down and out to start the final quarter.

Trailing 66-59, the Sharks battled back slowly but surely, then with Riders unable to get through the Sheffield defence, the Yorkshire side made their move with a 14-0 burst inspired by Jerrold Brooks, who hit eight of those that gave Sheffield the lead that they never let go.

“It’s been a crazy up-and-down season with new players and injuries and something like this makes it all worthwhile,” said Tuck.

“Everybody stepped up, from our bench guys to our starters. Big-time players step up in big-time situations and we did that today. It came down to defence and getting stops and we really stepped it up. We stopped their scorers and got it done on the other end.”

Brooks supported Tuck with 18 points, with Kyle Odister adding 16.

“I’m just happy we won,” a relieved Brooks said.

“That was the best game I played in a long time and to finally win after the season we had, up and down. We stayed together when they went up in the fourth quarter, we fought, fought back, got a run and ended up getting tonight on defence and got rebounds and knocked our free throws.”

Neil Watson hit a team-high 19 points for the Riders, who miss out on a treble-winning season after only adding 11 points to their 66-point tally after three periods.

What hurt the Riders the most though was a scoreless run in the fourth that lasted over five minutes. Exactly when Sheffield went on their decisive 14-0 tear.

“I thought that we missed a lot of easy looks,” said Riders coach Rob Paternostro.

“And after we missed those easy shots around the basket, they were able to get to get out on the break and score and then throughout the game they were able to make some timely shots. Some were contested but we dried up in the fourth and I think when you play in these finals its going to come down to who makes the timely shots and I thought they did that today.”

A three-pointer from Watson began a 7-0 run which gave Riders a 17-16 lead before John Barber connected to wrestle the lead back to the Sharks in an error-ridden first ten minutes.

Despite the cheap turnovers that Riders committed, a bucket by Conner Washington, followed by a three-pointer from Watson handed them a 22-18 lead after the first quarter.

Sheffield though would fight back in the second period, narrowing the gap to 27-25 with a score by Tuck. Washington then hit back-to-back triples to give the Riders a 36-30 cushion, only to be equalled by Barber in what turned out to be a frantic three minutes of accurate shooting from long range.

After the hot streak at both ends cooled down, Washington hit a long two with time winding down to give Leicester a 43-41 lead only for Brandon Hogg to respond with a three on the buzzer to give the Sharks a one-point edge at the break.

Riders quickly took the ascendency in the third quarter as Sheffield began to tire amid quick passes along the perimeter by the league champions. A score by Watson gave them a 56-53 lead and then a 10-0 finish ballooned that cushion to 66-59 after three periods.

Sheffield though, were not to be outdone and made their move in the final ten minutes that sealed the win.

Photo credit: Mansoor Ahmed