Leicester Riders took away the last of Newcastle’s four titles from last year with a 68-57 win over Fab Flournoy’s side as the BBL Play-Off final moved back to Wembley Arena for the first time in 12 years.
The 9,500 crowd at what used to be the spiritual home of basketball saw a final that was very tight in terms of scoring. The Eagles’ 57 was the lowest total in a final ever and Leicester’s 68 wouldn’t have won them any of the previous 25 finals either.
For the Riders, getting a third trophy of this magnificent season was all that counted.
“I still think they’re a good team,” said Leicester coach Rob Paternostro after depriving Flournoy of a consolation prize this season. “They had a good season – they didn’t win a trophy but we still have a lot of respect for them.”
Anyone who saw the teams battle out the BBL Cup earlier this year would have noticed similarities too – except that the Eagles never really threatened to come back and steal it at the death like they almost did at the NIA.
The crowd also saw a masterclass from the Player of the Year Drew Sullivan, who answered all the questions put to him by the Eagles, his former employers of course. Flournoy noted after the game that Sullivan’s experience as GB captain in the Olympics had changed him as a person, not as a player.
Even as the Riders swarmed over Newcastle in the early moments, Sullivan was displaying the ability to watch how the game was developing.
His exchange with benchman Yorick Williams for Williams’ three (and his dash down the lane to get Williams’ pass the next time down the floor) was the high point of the Riders’ 13-0 run that established control as Newcastle struggled to keep hold of the ball and do anything constructive with it.
Leading 22-11 after the first quarter, Leicester finished the second the stronger to lead 38-26 at the interval. Another strong finish to the third quarter saw them up 55-41 after three periods.
Newcastle’s 1-16 shooting performance (Chapman’s three in the fourth was the highpoint of a very lean night for him) was probably their demise and prevented any hope of a meaningful comeback.
Charles Smith, so often the match-winner for the Eagles, hit five of his 20 shots and finished with seven points. Kasreen Maddox again struggled to stay out of foul trouble and scored 12; Darius Defoe had 13 largely opportunistic points to lead the Newcastle scoring.
But Sullivan’s 24 points, five rebounds and six assists were enough to have won him two MVP awards, but as usual, Leicester had cameo contributions from others.
Jamell Anderson hit six of his 13 points in a single stretch in the first quarter and his thunderous putback, just seconds after Sullivan had stripped Flournoy and dunked on him, sent the Riders into the three-quarter break having withstood a more determined effort from the Eagles.
Jay Couisnard had eight points but all of them came at the right times. His strong coast-to-coast drive for two in the third quarter and three at the start of the fourth were both statements of intent.
Leicester were tough at the defensive end too – of the 42 shots Newcastle missed, they only recouped 12 and hardly any of those came in the first half, when they notched just 26 points.
An 8-0 run at the start of the fourth quarter, inspired by Chapman’s gold-dust three, brought the Eagles back to within nine points (60-51), was eclipsed by a wildly improbable turnaround jumper from Sullivan and Newcastle managed just six points in the remaining four and a half minutes.
“It was one of those games where one of the other guys could have made the shots and scored the points,” said Sullivan. “The ball just seemed to fall for me in good spots and for the first time against Newcastle, they weren’t sending double-teams at me.
“I just took advantage of it – I got a lot of shots close to the rim and when the double-teams started coming, I could kick it out and get other people involved.”
“His talent is what I always thought it was,” said Flournoy of Sullivan, who was part of the Newcastle team that swept all four titles in 2006. “But what he’s experienced over the last 12 months I think has produced something that has been building up in him over the last three and a half seasons. The experience he’s gained has come out.”
Flournoy will not take this season lightly. His depression is likely to last days, if not weeks. Some off-season upheaval can be expected on Tyneside after this, and other, displays.
“We just didn’t play the way I wanted us to play,” he said. “But credit Leicester. They’ve been a really tough team all season.”
Make theirs a treble.
Leicester: Sullivan, Couisnard, Taylor, Losonsky, Rowe.
Newcastle: Smith, Maddox, Defoe, Chapman, Huffman
Full report and reaction follows.
In other news, it’s been confirmed that Essex/London Leopards will not join the BBL next season. A league source confirmed that financial reasons are behind their withdrawal, 12 months after the club was awarded a franchise for 2013-14.
Main photo: Ville Vuorninen
Comments are closed on this post.