LIONS STARS SHINE BRIGHTEST

London Lions won the Betway All Stars Championship by beating Newcastle Eagles 26-25 in the final.

The capital outfit were 26-20 up entering the final minute before Jaysean Paige landed a huge five pointer with 20 seconds remaining to give Eagles hope. However, Lions ran down the clock to spark jubilant scenes at the buzzer.

Justin Robinson landed the MVP award, and said the title and £25,000 winners’ cheque felt like destiny for the team playing in their hometown.

“We are happy and I felt like we were meant to win this,” said the GB guard.

“This was our destiny, we came here to win, nothing less, and it is huge to land the title. I am enjoying the moment. To be player of the tournament is a great honour. There were a lot of great players here today, so I am happy to be MVP.”

Head coach Mariusz Karol added: “It was really important for us to win this tournament because it was in London, and we were the home team. This is the first step on the new season and we would like to be back here in May for the BBL Play-Offs. But you could see today, there are so many strong teams in the BBL.”

Lions saw off Bristol 18-16 in their semi-final, despite Flyers’ frantic last-ditch efforts to find the winning points. Eagles then squeezed through 27-26 over Leicester Riders, taking the lead in the dying seconds thanks to Terry Martin.

Eagles had earlier lost their opening group match 41-22 to Flyers, but won through the double elimination stage with success over Glasgow Rocks and Sheffield Sharks. Lions took a direct route to the last four, beating Rocks and then Flyers for their semi-final spot.

MVP Verdict

It was, as promised, basketball but not as we know it.

Five hours of virtually non-stop action with mind-warping rules changes that initially befuddled teams and spectators alike but later became a test of who could cope with the learning curve.

A big gold button to signal the use of a Powerplay at mid-court provided a hive of excitement. Those teams who picked up double points during its duration fared well.

The five-point line also provided an alternative focus. With no official stats available, you could only guesstimate the conversion rates from near mid-court but it might have been below ten percent. Which suggests it was better to avoid than attempt.

What the 14-second shot clock, the 12-minute games, rolling subs – and possibly, the lure of cold cash as prize money – achieved was to speed up the game to ridiculous levels. And arguably the one thing basketball is rarely accused of is a lack of quickness.

It made for turnovers, poor shooting and, unexpectedly, collisions on court. “It’s actually just too fast,” observed one coach. Spot on, he was. At times, it made the action unappealing. Patience, correctly, is a virtue.

The crowds, of around 6,000, were at least up significantly from netball’s sister show 24 hours before. Some of the dramatics were appealing. But most players and play callers I spoke to felt they’d learnt little about themselves and barely a little more about their would-be BBL rivals.

Faced with innovation, it was no surprise that the two sides who adapted best were the two which squared off in the final.

From their opening game, London best capitalised on their own power plays and duly held the ball as long as possible on their opponent’s.

Leicester coach Rob Paternostro cried foul when Newcastle held up the action by repeated subs during his power plays. Dem’s the rules though. Sometimes they go for you, others against. Cunning pays.

Was it fun? Ish (although we sat and watched the Sky Sports broadcast for a while which was funereal in comparison with being on site). Would you want it again in 2018? Perhaps, although with some reimagination to avoid a trade-off between pace and performance (however, if the BBL isn’t your regular bag, we suspect it was probably quite enjoyable as a spectacle).

Did we get any pointers for the season ahead? Probably not. But the Lions, with a hefty slice of the £25,000 put up for the victors, will not complain about basketball’s new diversion one bit.

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