London Lions captured the BBL Trophy with an 88-82 defeat of Plymouth Raiders.

The first time the franchise has triumphed in the mid-season competition. A down payment, finally, on the lavish investment that has flowed since the capital outfit corralled their first league title almost two years ago.

It was a different world then. A past era for London. Now, as they acknowledge, the pressure is on to constantly deliver with a target drawn brightly on their back.

At an empty Worcester Arena, Vince Macaulay’s men – paced by 20 points from Dirk Williams and a MVP performance from DeAndre Liggins – came out disguised as gun slingers and were merrily trigger-happy, firing anything but blanks in racing into an early advantage and then calmly holding their nerve even when the Raiders unpacked their own weapons and turned the final into a second half duel.

Atonement, of sorts, for January’s Cup final when Covid flushed out exactly half of London’s roster and rendered them vulnerable to Newcastle’s assault.

“It feels great,” Liggins admitted. “We were battling Covid. I had an opportunity and I missed it with the Cup final. I felt really bad. But it was something I couldn’t control. We had to put this final away and get the win. We couldn’t miss the opportunity again.

“I came with a focus from the jump. We found a way. We fought through adversity throughout the game. They gave us a battle. They came back. It was game of runs and we came out victorious.”

Bursting forth, Justin Robinson’s three-pointer garnered an 18-7 lead for Lions in the opening quarter and forced Paul James into a time out.

Ashley Hamilton, back after injury, was limited to sporadic cameos and with the formidable presence of their captain capped, it appeared destined to be a challenge for Raiders despite their impressive recent form.

Yet, he gave what he could and his colleagues ably pushed and scrambled and it produced a classic showdown for silverware.

A 10-0 start to the second period – fuelled by consecutive threes from Ricky McGill and then another from Will Neighbour on the wing – scythed the deficit to 28-27.

Cue Liggins, as both an exemplary facilitator and assassin.

The former NBA guard has repeatedly demonstrated his worth since landing last autumn in a blaze of hype. His team-mates took from his lead. Williams and Orlando Parker immediately helmed an 11-2 response to reassert London’s supremacy.

Speedily, two threes from Jules Dang Akodo illustrated just why the extraordinary depth of the Lions sets them apart.

Down 52-38 at half-time, Plymouth needed their defence foremost to find its mark. “That was probably the worst half we’ve played all season,” McGill declared.

James – coaching his eleventh major final just weeks after his 1000th BBL game – appeared to agree, opting to refresh his rotation headed into the third.

It paid off, a cavalry charge demanding a rapid timeout from Macaulay.

Two days before his 60th birthday, winning here was the best celebration he could hope for in these restrictive times.

With confirmation that London will apply to enter next season’s Basketball Champions League, he needs domestic results to set out a case for foreign excursions.

Consistency has been his side’s challenge all term. Even in-game.

McGill – a valuable replacement for the still-injured Andrew Lawrence – asked questions with nine points with a flurry of 12 unanswered that brought the Raiders within a single point.

Jekyll replaced Hyde. Williams and Parker once again drained supplementary threes for another momentum shift.

Raiders clung on, creditably and occasionally frantically .

Trailing 67-61 at the outset of the fourth quarter, even the temporal absence of Liggins – rested on four fouls – could not fling open the gates.

When he returned, with seven minutes left in regulation, the gap had stayed constant and he immediately earned a trip to the line with one converted.

McGill – who ended with a game-high 31 points – replied at the other end. Liggins struck back with a three-point play but it is his immense defence that has set him apart. As Plymouth sought gaps, he was so often there as a blockade, forcing awkward passes and getting his hand to the ball.

All available help was needed. Prince Ibeh slashed for a lay-up with exactly 100 seconds left made the Devon outfit were just 80-77 in arrears.

They could rue many things in the final inquest. Shooting 21-31 from the foul line was damaging. Starting slow, finishing strong, heaping unnecessary pressure from the very off.

Liggins fouled out in the last minute, with 17 points, eight assists and seven rebounds to his name.

Off a timeout, with a lead of four, Robinson improbably missed two free throws.

Denzel Ubiaro ramped up the drama by emerging from a crowd to tip in an offensive rebound to make it a one-shot game with 12 seconds to go.

However Parker brought breathing space with two successes from the line and Josh Ward-Hibbert added the killer touch.

“We were very focused on the job at hand,” Macaulay said. “It was important for us to come here and just concentrate on the Lions, on what we were doing. Not let them take us out of what we were trying to do. And I think we did that all the way down the stretch,

A double for London Lions following their sister act in the WBBL Trophy final earlier in the day.

“I’m delighted. I’ve been around this game for a long time and worked my way from the bottom to be where I am now, with a group of owners who want to see British basketball at the top of European basketball.

“And that just doesn’t mean men. It means the men and the women. And our junior programme and our pathway.”

Will Neighbour added 13 points and 11 rebounds for Plymouth.

We showed heart, said James. McGill was “fantastic.” Not enough though.

“I think the game was lost in the first half,” he admitted. “There were things we were preparing for all week: take away their transition points. Take away their three-point shots. We just didn’t do that in the first half. They had 53 points.

“We played the right way in the second half. But the ball didn’t fall for us when we need it to.”

Game Stats


Images: Ahmedphotos


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