It was billed as the league’s best two teams, in front of an expected record Playoff final audience of 15,000 at the O2 Arena, and even Tinchy Strider was performing.
It was a shame that only one team showed up.
Leicester Riders claimed the treble by adding the Playoff crown to their League and Trophy titles by beating the Newcastle Eagles 84-63 in the British Basketball League finale on Sunday.
A 10-0 run by the Riders in the first quarter proved to be the difference as Newcastle, usually at their best when challenged in a showpiece game were never in it.
Andy Thomson led the Riders with 18 points and eight rebounds with Pierre Hampton adding a 14-point, 14-rebound double-double, good enough for the latter to claim the MVP award.
“The whole establishment of the Leicester Riders did this season, bringing in guys, obviously we are a very talented team but also we are very unselfish and I think that shows on the statsheet,” Hampton said.
“Coach always had us prepared and that showed today as well, all week he had us preparing and we came out prepared, locked in from the start.”
“Proud of the team today, not just for today but for the whole season,” Thomson added. “We brought together quite a few new guys this year and it took until December to get into that gear that we needed to and it clicked in today’s final.”
Leicester had the upper hand and the aforementioned run, fueled by Taylor King and former Eagle Thomson gave the Riders a 24-8 cushion. Rahmon Fletcher, who led the Eagles with 16 points, broke the spell with a three but Leicester were firmly in control and a score from Hampton to start the second, gave the league winners a 20-point advantage.
Like they did at the BBL Cup final back in January, the Eagles faced adversity and were down double-digits early on, but fought back to beat the Glasgow Rocks. But the Riders are a different opposition all together and were determined not to let Newcastle back into the game.
The aggressors King and Thomson led Leicester throughout the half with 11 points each as they maintained Riders’ 20-point cushion at the half, as Newcastle faced a 47-27 deficit.
The Riders were relentless, something that coach Rob Paternostro said was the theme at training prior to their trip to London.
“I think defensively, we were locked in from start to finish, to hold them in the twenties in the first half was something special,” Paternostro said.
“I loved this week at practice. At the end of the season we had a lot of games and we had clinched it early so we weren’t able to go at it but this week, we went at it. There was a couple of days where nobody was friends and that made me feel good, because I knew that we were ready.”
Newcastle though started the third brighter, but that spell was only brief. Leicester’s sizable cushion blew up more as a 9-0 run handed them a 58-31 lead, forcing the Eagles to call a timeout, perhaps a little quicker than they had wanted to.
But nothing worked, Leicester’s intensity and focus never changed, like the training sessions they enjoyed. Leading 72-44 at the end of the third, the main attraction seemed to shift towards the BBL’s new mascot, who delighted the younger fans with his antics, partnered by the Eurobasket mascot, Sam Dunk, who was also in the British capital.
The Eagles had minor spurts, but by then the Riders were control. The game almost resembled a training scrimmage as the neutrals inside the arena made their exit quickly. The only positive for the Eagles was that a score by Deandre Parks with 2:10 left in the final period ensured Newcastle would not finish with the lowest Playoff final total of 57 points.
“You got to give Leicester a lot of credit,” Newcastle player/coach Fab Flournoy said as he contemplates whether he will continue playing at 44-years-old but didn’t give any definitive answer when asked.
“We never got into the game, we didn’t show up.”