It will be an all-star clash at the o2 on Sunday as the League Champions Leicester Riders take on the league runners-up London Lions in the dream match to settle the BBL Playoff Final.
The Lions enter the final off the back of their best ever season including making the semi-finals in the Cup and Trophy and finishing second in the league, their highest ever finish, under the leadership of owner Vince Macaulay, who took the coaching reigns back up in January.
The Riders enter the final led by once again Coach of the Year winner Rob Paternostro as his ruthlessly efficient Riders steamrollered the league as well as taking victory in dramatic fashion in the BBL Trophy. Leicester dominated the BBL title race, losing just five games all year, two of those to the Lions late in the season.
The Lions have played the Riders better than anyone else this season, but victory today would only see them tie the Riders 3-3 in a season series, but would complete an incredible season that started with the victory in the All-Star Challenge at the o2 arena back in September.
The Riders know all about winning at the o2 on the biggest stage as they showed last season, coolly dispatching with the Newcastle Eagles 84-63 in a contest that was over by the end of the first quarter. The Lions must learn from that lesson if they hope for the victory today, you cannot beat the Riders in the opening term but you can lose to them early.
The Lions are a versatile side aided by a deep bench but are led by league MVP Justin Robinson and BBL Defensive Team of the Year member Brandon Peel. Robinson has played the year like the Riders do, consistently and quietly excellent. Robinson averaged 17.8 points per game and 5.6 assists per game as well as setting the tempo and the standard on both sides of the ball for the Lions.
Peel has excelled all season since the opening weekend at the o2, the quiet Peel has scored double-doubles seemingly at will, attacking the glass on both ends and scoring well inside and expanding his range as the season has progressed.
The Riders are a team in every sense of the word, with Paternostro’s strength his ability to have 15 men who are able to contribute and buy into his system and this has enabled him to win the league at a canter yet again. The Riders’ tone is set by last year’s Finals MVP Pierre Hampton and Point Guard Tyler Bernardini. Hampton made the BBL team of the year and shines in a side of star players. Hampton is an effective rebounder and interior scorer who is a lively player that drags attention from opposition defenders that open gaps for others on the floor to play.
Bernardini is Mr Cool and leads the Riders on and off the floor. The point guard has an excellent three-point shot and if he’s allowed to find his rhythm can be a devastating passer and shooter. Bernardini is a strong defender and pulled down 100 defensive rebounds which the Lions will want to limit in the game as his court vision is a major strength.
Both sides enter the enter the game extremely confident of taking the victory at o2. London, have two wins over the Riders this season but have lost three to the Riders. The Lions have crafted a well-built squad of players who play for each other and for their city. The Lions are dangerous in the paint and can do damage from range with captain Joe Ikhinmwin and Paul Guede happy to take big shots, as do the Riders in J.R. Holder and Shane Walker.
The on-floor clash to watch will be Robinson vs Bernardini. Bernardini will be looking to get the upper hand on Robinson early in the contest and if he succeeds the Lions could be in for a long day, but if Robinson is able to play to his potential and keep his teammates in the game, we should be in for an incredible game of basketball.
This final has the makings of a classic encounter and a great occasion to cap off an incredible season of British Basketball.
Tip-off is 4pm and will be live on FreeSports TV.