Leicester Riders punch their ticket to the o2

The Leicester Riders confirmed their spot in the Benecos BBL Playoff Final with a 85-73 victory over the Plymouth Raiders, on Sunday in Leicester.

Header Photo Credit: BBCSport Twitter.

The Riders held a slim two point margin going into the contest and maintained the aggregate advantage for most of the contest, despite the Raiders playing some great basketball and battling the full fourty, as they have all playoffs.

After tying the first quarter thanks to a buzzer beater three from iron-man Josh Wilcher, the Riders took a slender lead into the half, 46-44, a Josh Ward-Hibbert layup in the dying moments securing the advantage.

Josh Ward-Hibbert, the Riders’ two-sport star, was a standout performer in the semi final, in part due to his 13 points and 4 rebound night, but more importantly playing excellent defence on MVP candidate Dante Nicholas who finished with a 12-9-8 night. Nicholas put up numbers, but scored at a much lower clip than is usual and is required for Plymouth to succeed, and a large part of that was down to Ward-Hibbert who ended the game with a +12 in plus minus.

The second half started well for the hosts, extending the lead to four points on the night, but as they have all playoffs, the Raiders pegged them back and once again took the lead at the midway point of the period. For the final time.

The Riders turned their performance up a notch, and were able to utilise their deep bench, to grind away at the Raiders as fatigued looked to set in. The visitors, playing their fourth game in seven days, started missing shots and the Riders began to take over. Despite only leading by 4 at the end of the period, you had the feeling watching it that is was a done deal and the Riders would not let their 6 point advantage slip.

The fourth period started poorly for the Raiders as they went on a 1-5 shooting drought, whilst the Riders hit 3 of their 5 first shots. With four minutes left on the clock Tim Williams ended the contest with a layup to extend the lead to double digits for the first time in the game.

Tim Williams was named the Game-night MVP after a monster 25-10-4 night with 3 steals and 2 blocks, whilst shooting 80% from the floor, with an enormous index score of 39. Williams impressed all viewing with a dominant display and has proven to be an excellent mid-season acquisition for Rob Paternostro, who continues to be one of the best roster builders in the BBL.

The final few minutes of the contest saw the Raiders rest Wilcher for the first time all playoffs and send out some bench players as well as giving Zak Wells the final minute on the floor, guarding his close friend and former teammate Harrison Gamble as the Raiders’ season and Well’s career came to an end.

The Riders are looking for a three-peat and will face the upstart London City Royals, looking to win their first ever playoffs in their first season in existence.

Keep it locked to FocusHoops.com this week as we’ll have in depth team and game previews, podcasts and more to prepare for the Playoff Final this Sunday.

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