EASY RIDES INTO SEMIS

Leicester Riders and London Lions swept onward into the last four of the BBL Playoffs.

No shock for the league champions who built on the gains of the first leg of their quarter-final with Bristol Flyers to take a 92-79 victory in the second at Worcester Arena and complete a 177-135 aggregate win.

“The first five minutes we came out a little slow but after that we had a solid game,” head coach Rob Paternostro said. “It’s always weird to have a big lead but I thought our guys handled themselves well.”

William Lee led Leicester with 18 points – while Mo Walker continuing his recovery from injury to chip in 11 points and nine rebounds – as the Riders seized control late in the second period and surged away.

With 30 wins now this season, next week they will face a semi – and, potentially, a final on their own floor at Morningside Arena.

“That’s the goal now,” Paternostro added. “It’s been a great season and we’d like to cap it off right. But we have a challenge in the semi-final.”

Ben Mockford had a game-high 19 points for Bristol whose campaign ended with a game where a useful result – without the services of Teddy Okereafor due to a dislocated shoulder – was the longest of shots.

“We just wanted to go out and compete and I felt that for most of the game we did a pretty good job,” coach Andreas Kapoulas said.

“Today it was just about pride and I’m pleased with how the guys went about their business.”

London Lions, top-seeded in the other half of the playoff draw, arrived in Worcester with less of an initial advantage but departed equally supreme.

The BBL Trophy winners extinguished the campaign of Cheshire Phoenix within a blistering ten-minute spell in the first half that propelled them toward a 95-60 win on the night, and 168-126 on aggregate.

Never seriously threatened following an 13-2 start, the capital outfit stretched their advantage to 50-23 with eleven unanswered points within 80 seconds of the second period, a run capped by a three from Kevin Ware.

Converting 13-21 from three-point range in the opening 20 minutes, London eased 60-31 ahead by half-time.

And even with Vince Macaulay afforded the luxury of sharing the workload, he kept his starters on the floor until the cushion had been widened to as much as 84-40 at the conclusion of the third by the rampant Lions and the rout had been solidified.

Threatening to exceed the largest margin of victory in a BBL playoff contest of 44, history was derailed only by a 7-0 run to open the fourth from Cheshire that was as belated as it was meaningless.

“It was about trying to knock their confidence out early, knock them out of their rhythm,” said¬†Dirk Williams, who led Lions with 17 points.

“It’s a good time for our chemistry to be built. We have a (club record) 12-game winning streak and we w want to keep the winning streak and chemistry going.”

An ominous message sent. “We feel like we can keep getting better,” warned Macaulay. “It was sensational in the first half and we hope we can keep that form going through the next X amount of games.”

Two wins more is now the target, he added. “We’re an emotional kind of team. I don’t know where that comes from. At the end of the day everybody cares here and we want to do the best for our club.”

Matthew Bryan-Amaning paced Cheshire with 17 points.

“We’re not at that level,” coach Ben Thomas acknowledged. “I thought we had a great performance on Monday and it’s a shame that’s how we ended our season.”

Thursday schedule

Quarter-final, 2nd legs. Sheffield (77-79) Newcastle (5pm), Worcester (82-84) Plymouth (7.30)

Images: Mansoor Ahmed

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