Leicester Riders complete back-to-back BBL treble

Mansoor Ahmed
Mansoor Ahmed

With Los Angeles Lakers forward Luol Deng watching on, Leicester Riders completed back-to-back BBL trebles with a resounding win over the London Lions.

JR Holder led Leicester with 20 points, Pierre Hampton had 19 with Tyler Bernandini and JR Holder adding 17 each as the Riders secured an 81-60 win at the O2 Arena in London.

TrayVonn Wright amassed 11 points and 13 rebounds for the Riders as he claimed the Finals MVP award in a game where they overpowered the London Lions from the second quarter onwards as a 10-0 run early on handed them a 22-16 lead and from there, Lions, appearing in their second Playoff final in three years could not catch up as Rob Paternostro’s side adds the Playoff crown to the league and Trophy titles that will sit proudly in the cabinet over the summer.

Leicester Riders celebrate back-to-back trebles with Tyler Bernandini holding the BBL Playoff title aloft in his final game as a professional. Photo: Mansoor Ahmed.

“I thought we started the game well defensively,” said Paternostro. “I think that was important, we were doing what we wanted to do defenisvely and I think we don’t get hung up on the offensive end but we didn’t want to do was turn the ball over.

“I felt that in the game where we lost, we turned the ball over a lot and if we took care of the ball for most of the game and get our defence set up then we would be okay.”

Brandon Peel was outstanding with 22 points and 13 rebounds to lead London but found little support from his team-mates as newly-crowned BBL MVP Justin Robinson was held to just four points.

“We were under no elusions that this was a champion team that we had to face,” said Lions coach Vince Macaulay, who took over the Lions side in March and led them to runners-up in the league.

“It was not going to be easy to wrestle it away and they proved that. I think 60 points is not going to win you any finals and we got what we deserved.”

The Lions, playing in-front of their hometown crowd with many of the neutrals also on their side were unable to put the ball in the basket but found solace at the free throw line as thankfully for them Leicester were also struggling themselves.

In fact, both teams only managed three field goals each after the first quarter, but for the Lions they held a slender 14-12 lead. But the reigning league and Trophy winners were not behind for long and a 10-0 run, inspired by Pierre Hampton put the Riders 22-16 ahead.

With that loud hometown following now silent, London needed a spark. And they found it in Paul Guede, who scored eight points in quick succession that not only re-energised the Lions fans, but also put a smile on Deng’s face, as he sat coutside.

But with the Lions offence catching fire, at the other end, their defence was found wanting as the Riders eased back into contention with a 10-2 finish to the second to take a 39-28 advantage.

And another 10-0 spurt by the Riders, which saw a highlight dunk from JR Holder and London forward Flo Larkai ejected in that run, gave the champions a 50-32 lead and from there, Lions had no answers. Leicester were in cruise control – London enjoyed a 6-0 run in the fourth period – but that was all they were getting.

It was a fairytale ending for the Riders – especially for Bernandini and Eric Robertson, who both announced their retirement from professional basketball at the post-game press conference.

“It’s been a great four years here,” Bernandini said. “It’s a career that I’m really appreciativeĀ to have had. It’s an opportunity that has been great and I just so proud of my time here.”

Robertson, who is a student at Loughborough University added: “I’ve had a great opportunity to come here and spend these two years playing and studying and now I get to finish my degree and go back home.”