British Basketball League (BBL) Preview: Playoffs Final

Our weekly look ahead to all the action coming up in the BBL.

Leicester Riders v Sheffield Sharks

Where and when:

The O2, London, 3.30pm Sunday 8 May

Summary:

Leicester Riders and Sheffield Sharks will take to British Basketball’s biggest stage on Sunday, aiming to end contrasting seasons on a the highest of high notes.

After a slow start and a season disrupted by injuries and player turnover, Sharks’ 10-game winning streak propelled them up the BBL table to eventually finish third.

Impressive Play-Off victories against London Lions and Glasgow Rocks followed as Atiba Lyons’ men booked their first Molten BBL Play-Off Final appearance since 2011, despite the continued absence of Colin Sing and Patrick Horstmann.

Riders, meanwhile, overcame a gruelling season run-in, and an all-conquering Esh Group Eagles Newcastle squad to bounce back from BBL Cup Final heartbreak and secure the BBL Trophy and BBL Championship.

Leeds Force and Cheshire Phoenix were defeated in the post-season as Riders rolled on to today’s final.

It will be the seventh time these teams have met this season, with Riders seeking to add to their 2013 crown while Sharks last lifted this prize in 2004.

Close to 15,000 fans attended last year’s final and as well as another bumper crowd expected, the game is also available to watch live via the red button and BBC Sport online.

Last time they met:

Leicester Riders 77 Sheffield Sharks 56 (BBL Championship, Leicester Community Sports Arena, 09 April 2016)

Form:

Riders: WLWWWL
Sharks: WLWLWL

Three Points:

  • Riders are aiming to complete a second BBL treble in four seasons
  • Riders’ Drew Sullivan and Neil Watson, along with Sharks’ Jerrold Brooks, where this week named in the Molten BBL Team of the Year while Rob Paternostro won Coach of the Year for a third time
  • Sharks and Riders played out a 79-79 tie in their BBL Trophy Semi-Final first leg back in February

What they say:

Riders guard Tyler Bernardini: “We’re playing our best basketball right now. That Saturday game against Cheshire [Semi-Final, first leg], Rob [Paternostro, coach] said it was our best game, so for us right now, it’s not so much about looking at Sheffield, more about looking at us and how we can get better and improve upon that performance, tighter defensively, tighter offensively.

“At the beginning of the season our goal was to play for all four trophies, and fortunately enough we have been able to do that. To lose that first one [BBL Cup Final] was so difficult to swallow, and then to come back and win the next two was really special.

“This is why we work so hard and why everyone has bought in the way they have. To win the Play-Off Final would be the culmination of all the effort we started in August. It would be crushing to have the success we have had, to get to the final and not win it, so it is hard to even think like that.

“We don’t have to sit here and think about Sheffield too much and figure them out because we have seen them so much this season. We played them in the Cup, in the Trophy and obviously three times in the league.

“We know they are very good, very talented, athletic, strong, physical. There is a reason they are in this Play-Off Final. It’s no surprise for us to see Sheffield here.”

Sharks forward Antone Robinson: “[Coming through a tough season to reach the final] shows that this team has a lot of character and mental toughness and pride in getting through adversity.

“I expect it to be a hard-fought, interesting, physical game. We just have to come focused. Anything can happen.

“[To win the Play-Offs] would mean a lot and just put the icing on the cake so to speak with everything we’ve been through. I think we’ve had a pretty good season to this point.”

Sharks coach Atiba Lyons: “We know Leicester now pretty well. We’ve played them a lot this season and they’re tough.

“Defensively they’ve given up the least amount of points. They have so many weapons and they’re playing really well.

“They’ve been in this position before. It’d be silly to think we’re not underdogs but we’re a proud team and on any given day, if we put it together, we can do it.”

Source: BBL
Image: P.Davies