Leicester Riders secured a treble with a 78-75 win over London Lions in a pulsating BBL Playoff final.

British Basketball League, Cup and now the end of season silverware. Another amazing campaign for Rob Paternostro and his crew of tightly-knit warriors who held their nerve when it counted to deny London a consolation from their year of under-achievement.

Geno Crandall, fittingly, was the hero with 23 points. It was a collective effort in every sense, just as it has been since last September.

But in front of a huge crowd at London’s 02 Arena, the Lions were a potent match for long spells, creating drama aplenty until the dying seconds.

There came five early lead changes before an 11-2 run in which Isaiah Reese hit consecutive threes towards his final tally  29 points to eventually propell Lions as much as 27-17 clear in a frenetic opening spell.

Just the ticket for the neutrals. Stakes raised in a poker contest worthy of the occasion.

Inevitably Leicester re-grouped. Coolly patient, as they have been all season when the heat has been turned up.

Unsurprisingly, Crandall pulled the strings.

Trimming the deficit to four entering the second, the league champions began to up the pace with the Player of the Year hitting six of his haul in a 10-3 surge that took some of the air out of the hometown balloon.

Reese, as so often, provided a one-man resistance movement. He hit a three to close the first half to increase his personal tally to 19 as Lions trailed 44-39.

And the American, who plans to play summer league in the USA to take another shot towards the NBA, linked with Lorenzo Cugini in a 20-2 run that included 13 straight and swung the pendulum back once more, their team rallying behind interim head coach Nikhil Lawry in what is expected to be his last turn in the role with Ryan Schmidt, his de facto assistant here, waiting in the wings.

Cue, of course, a return serve.

Conner Washington stepped up as Riders – as we knew they would – responded with a 14-0 start to the fourth to lead 70-65.

Crandall gripped the tempo gleefully with both hands. He has high ambitions. Again, he shot for the stars, aided by a ferocious locking of the doors that held Lions scoreless until 4:04 left in the period with Mo Walker a tower of power.

And yet, the margins remained small. At the mercy of small errors and excellence – plus the nine free throws missed by the Midlands outfit.

Darien Nelson-Henry and Tawiah – the latter who collected 14 boards – spun around to wrestle for a loose ball. It summed up the ferociousness of the fight.

Reese, a competitor to the very end, was outstanding. No wonder his injury absence this term so damaged the Lions.

He kept his team on the cusp until Crandall gave Leicester a cushion of three with 52 seconds left.

Reese missed his next three. Riders recovered. Crandall missed but although the rebound went Riders’ way, Jubril Adekoya lost possession to Dirk Williams.

But out of a timeout with two seconds left, Crandall put the seal on a stupendous campaign by thieving the inbound pass and surging towards the party with trebles all round.

Game Stats

Images: Mansoor Ahmed

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