Leicester Riders and Sheffield Sharks brave weather to put on BBL Trophy Final classic

Mansoor Ahmed
Mansoor Ahmed

Leicester Riders captured the BBL Trophy for the third straight year with a hard-fought 90-85 win over Sheffield Sharks in Glasgow as fans braved the temperatures and were treated to a classic that went down to the last second.

JR Holder was awarded MVP as he finished with 15 points, four rebounds, three assists and two blocks for the winners, but the real MVPs to use the cliche ‘Kevin Durant MVP speech’ were the staff that ensured that the game went ahead in the first place.

With many British Basketball League games falling victim to the weather, it was seen as an ambitious move to ensure fans that the BBL Trophy final was still going ahead despite the thick snow and below zero temperatures in Glasgow.

The two games scheduled to be played on Friday in Newcastle and Leeds were postponed due to the adverse weather while Bristol Flyers staff including its head coach Andreas Kapoulas worked overtime to make sure their game on Saturday against Cheshire Phoenix went ahead even though the south-west of the UK suffered from heavy snowfall as well.

Unlike most countries around Europe, who are better equipped to deal with the winter freeze, unlike the British, where for some reason the entire nation seems to grind to a halt, The British Basketball League office wanted their flagship game of the weekend to go on. The near sell-out crowd that was anticipated at Glasgow’s Emirates Arena was nowhere near but still, a fairly decent amount made for the occasion.

And the Riders, who arrived in Scotland the day before the game quickly warmed themselves up by racing into a 12-2 lead within the first four minutes of the game, catching Sheffield on the backfoot with transition buckets and accurate three-point shooting.

The Sharks hit back to narrow the gap to four points at one stage but Leicester finished strong to take a 29-15 lead after one.

In fact, the Riders shot a sublime 72 percent from the three-point line in the half to take a 52-41 lead over the Sharks, whose shooting was a little off and their free throw shooting was just as bad, there were moments of individual brilliance from the Yorkshire side but they found Leicester to hot to handle in the first half.

At several points in the game, Sheffield were overly reliant on individual offence, with little success. Leicester were finding open looks, and attacking the basket with ease. Their lead ballooned to 17 points before Sharks coach Atiba Lyons decided to call timeout.

Chris Alexander led a fourth-quarter fightback from the Sheffield Sharks, which transformed a once one-sided BBL Trophy Final into a brilliant spectacle. Photo: Mansoor Ahmed

In the latter stages of the third, Sheffield’s once static and unimaginative offence, transformed into gritty, determined play as they began to chomp away at Leicester’s superiority.

Then Sharks’ Chris Alexander took over.

Alexander, who had a game-high 20 points, hit seven of them in a manic spell of under four minutes to give his side an unlikely 77-75 lead, which stunned the Riders and its head coach Rob Paternostro. But they later regained their composure to have an 88-85 lead in the final seconds.

But, with Sheffield on the ball and the clock winding down, it was down to Alexander who had his team’s last shot. The ball left the American’s hands, it hung in the air for what seemed an eternity – it went in-and-out of the basket once – went up, and fell in-and-out once more as the time dropped below a second left.

It was heartbreak for the Sharks, as Riders forward Shane Walker calmly knocked down the game-clinching free throws to seal coach Paternostro’s tenth BBL title as Leicester coach.

The BBL’s decision to go ahead with the game was seen as risky, but it paid off as the two teams put together a fine advert for the British game.