LEICESTER REIGN IN PLAYOFF FINAL

Leicester Riders toasted a treble by mauling London Lions 81-60 in the 2018 BBL Playoff final.

From late in the second quarter at London’s 02 Arena, it was never truly in doubt.

The league and Trophy winners eventually defending the end of season title in style, propelled into the interval on an 8-0 run which pushed them 39-28 clear and then embarking on a third quarter blitz.

If the early shooting from both teams was ice cold, the Riders heated up and froze the Lions out, spearheaded by 19 points from Pierre Hampton and an 11 points and 13 rebounds double-double from Final MVP, Trayvonn Wright.

“I had to calm them down in the locker room before the game,” revealed victorious coach Rob Paternostro. “They were really ready.”

From a competitive opening, stalemate gave way to a swarming suffocating strangulation by Leicester that throttled every effort from their rivals to grab lifelines as their precipice loomed.

No wonder that the capital outfit were restrained to shooting 2/19 from three-point range with their offense shut down for prolonged spells.

London’s veteran Flo Larkai was ejected for what appeared an innocuous skirmish in the midst of a 12-2 Riders run that opened up a 53-34 gulf with Paternostro’s men leaning, as they have done all campaign, on their defence to create countless opportunities.

And with league MVP Justin Robinson stifled by relentless pressure, London simply looked like a squad who had finally run out of energy following an exhausting second half of the campaign as they were humbled by the BBL’s best team who pursued an avowed goal to sign off for the summer on a high.

“The 60 points we scored will not win finals and we got what we deserved, which was nothing,” Lions coach Vince Macaulay acknowledged.

A brief rally in the fourth apart, it became a procession for Rob Paternostro’s men with Eric Robertson nailing a impactful three and then Paul Guede drawing a technical for a physical retort out of sheer frustration.

It summed up the afternoon. Leicester disciplined, the Lions – paced by 22 points and 13 rebounds from Brandon Peel – unable to land blows.

“We did everything we could to limit Robinson’s touches,” Paternostro admitted. “We know what a great player he is. I thought our guys really executed that really well. I felt our conditioning made a different, especially down the stretch in wearing them down.

“But as a group, we felt we deserved to be the favourites in this game because all year we’ve dialled it up.”

Leicester management will now ponder whether to enter next season’s Basketball Champions League with its financial costs and potential rewards understood to be the primary factor in a decision which will be taken next month.

“It’s always something that we’ve talked about,” Paternostro added. “If we’re ready to do it off the court and we have the resources, I’m all for it. But it has to be the right time. When we make that decision, we’ll make a good decision.”

They will head into a rebuild, however, with captain Tyler Bernardini, and Robertson, announcing their retirements immediately afterwards.

“Why now? I’m at the point in my life when I’m not getting any younger,” Bernardini, still aged only 29, confirmed. “Injuries hurt a little more than they did a few years ago. My wife and I are looking to start a family and I’d like to move onto the next phase of my career, outside of sport.”

UpdatesGame Stats

WBBL Playoff Final: Suns torch Leicester

Sevenoaks Suns added to the Women’s British Basketball League title they landed last month by retaining their playoff title with a 69-44 destruction of Leicester Riders.

Cat Carr, the game’s MVP, hit a game-high 19 points as the defending champions punished their rivals for poor shot selection and infrequent rebounding, building a 26-11 lead in the second quarter to earn an advantage which they never relinquished.

Down 38-20 at half-time, Riders began with 1/12 shooting and did not score more than two consecutive field goals in the entire contest.

And another 13-2 run only added a veneer to Sevenoaks domination with Leicester – paced by 12 points from Holly Winterburn – converting just 25% of their attempts in eventually trailing by as much as 29 late in the fourth.

“We just went out and played Suns basketball,” said Carr. “We struggled against them in the Trophy final but ever since then we have had a new focus. That is why we wanted to play Leicester and we executed our game plan perfectly.”

Tayini Clarke added 16 rebounds and nine points for the victors with the Riders well-beaten.

“A final can go one of two ways: it can be a battle or a blowout but either way, there’s always going to be a loser,” said Leicester and Great Britain forward Erin McGarrachan who, like team-mate Dee Hayward, was playing the last game of her career.

“I was a bit disappointed that the way we played wasn’t a true reflection of our team but we have a lot of younger players and it was a first time for them to be on this kind of stage. Sometimes it just depends on the way the win is blowing so we can’t be too disappointed.

Game Stats

Photos: Mansoor Ahmed

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