Newcastle Eagles player-coach Fab Flournoy believes Leicester Riders strength in depth will be a key factor at Wembley Arena on Sunday in the BBL Play-off final.
The game – which is an 8500 sell-out in its return to London – sees the top two teams in the regular season table facing up in a fitting climax to the campaign, with champions Riders looking to gain revenge for last year’s loss to an all-conquering Eagles side in the season finale.
The teams also met in this season’s BBL Cup final as a 7,500 sell-out crowd as the Riders lifted the silverware with a thrilling 85-80 victory, with the Midlands outfit also claiming all three regular season meetings between the two clubs on the way to their first title.
For Eagles, the fifth clash provides the chance to avoid only their second trophy-less season since 2004.
Leicester, chasing a treble, stand in their way.
“They have a whole host of players who can hurt you. Obviously Drew Sullivan won the MVP award and Jay Couisnard came second. But then there’s Zaire Taylor at the point guard and Pavol Losonsky is playing well.
“Their bench can come in at key moments. Barry Lamble, Yorick [Williams] and [Jorge] Calvo have all shown in different games that they can step up and help them win games.
“Anthony Rowe has been re-energised since signing from Plymouth, he’s had a point to prove and a chip on his shoulder all season – and he’s been fantastic for the Riders all season. They’ve got the best record, and all ten of their guys are key to them. All the pieces of their jigsaw fit. They have young guys such as Jamell Anderson and Connor Washington and at one point every single player has helped them win a game.”
Likewise, Flournoy has a lot of respect for opposite number Rob Paternostro.
“You can’t underestimate Rob, you can either love him or hate him, he’s got them all together. He’s like the pied piper, he’s got the tactics and he gets the best out of them.”
Paternostro is obviously excited about reaching a third final this season: “I think that any time you reach a final it’s a great achievement. The four games we played in the play-offs were all difficult and I’m proud of the way my guys battled throughout. It’s been a long season that has tested us physically, especially with the league season schedule. So for us to come through and get to a final – especially in the way we played in the second half on Sunday – is a fantastic achievement and I’m excited to be there.”
The Riders’ coach admitted that he didn’t expect the level of success that his side have achieved this season: “When you approach a season, especially with the amount of new players we had, there’s some uncertainty but we found out early on that not only did we have a talented group but they were committed to playing together and winning. There’s been no other agendas, they just take to the floor and do everything they can to get the win.”
Paternostro has a clear idea of what his side need to do to collect their third piece of silverware this season. “For us it’s important we continue the defensive effort, Eagles are one of the best offensive teams in the league and it’s important we don’t allow anything to come easy. When they get opportunities, they capitalise on them. So over the 40 minutes it’s important to make to most of our opportunities.
“When you look at their team they have a good balance inside and out. I think [Kareem] Maddox has added something to them. He’s been effective on the boards and is very difficult to contain. Damon Huffman has been a guy who’s struggled with injuries but he’s had a really good season and has added something to their backcourt.
“Fab, Charles Smith, Joe Chapman and Darius Defoe are guys who have been there before and understand what it takes. They and continue to be very effective players in the league, while Anthony Martin has also impacted them with his speed and quickness.”
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