The dream debut season for the London City Royals on the floor could not be capped with the fairy tale ending as the Leicester Riders won the BBL Playoff Final in convincing fashion, 93-61.
The London City Royals fans looked to make the o2 a fortress as they came out in huge numbers to support their side. The passion and energy they provided their team was exceptional, but so too was the support of the Riders faithful ready to see their side take home a third consecutive playoff title.
The boos rained down on Jamelle Anderson as he shot free throws to get the game started as the Royals have the arena packed out with fans rooting for the home town club. Anderson was not put off and sank both freebies to get the scoring underway in the final.
The first quarter was played at breakneck pace with the two squads trading buckets. The first proper run of the game came from the Riders, a 9-0 run that brought them a 7 point advantage, but the Royals came back into things, narrowing the gap to two, before Brandon Clark gave his side a quick fire 5 points and tireless defensive work to give the Riders a healthy 23-15 lead going into the first break.
The Riders were playing as expected, with no standout individual performances but playing excellent, high tempo team basketball. The Royals kept the contest at the perimeter more than expected given the size advantage they hold with Matthew Bryan-Amaning.
The second quarter was a much more even contest with both sides adding 21 points to their total. It was a quarter that will have suited the Riders down to the ground, not giving up to many personal fouls, and managing their lead. The Riders netted 3 triples in the period, Clark sinking one of them and Josh Ward-Hibbert netting the other to get the Riders off the mark to start the contest.
The Royals would have been pleased with their second quarter efforts, as Matthew Bryan-Amaning started to dominant midway through the period. Bryan-Amaning is as tough of cover there is in the BBL and his 8 points in the quarter were huge in keeping the game tight heading into the break.
The gap would have been closer but JR Holder scored an incredible three-point buzzer beater to send the sides into the break 44-36.
Quarter three was an exercise in control for the Riders who showed their defensive mettle, as well as their scoring ability as they hammered the Royals 27-10 in the quarter, built on a 19-2 scoring run. Tim Williams had a hot start to the quarter bagging six points and Holder came up big with seven points of his own as the Royals struggled to contain the Riders.
The Riders demonstrated their excellence on defence with multiple stops and a 24-second violation killing off any hopes of a Royals fightback.
The final period was once again won by the Riders, but was all about the Leicester club managing the contest and seeing them home with a victory. The Riders, as they have all season, shared the points effectively whilst the Royals, still shaken from the third, struggled to find their rhythm.
Orlan Jackman, who led by example all season, made a triple in the middle of the quarter which was the highlight of the period. Jackman had a captain’s performance with 15 points and 10 rebounds but it wasn’t enough to turn the tide for his team. Ashley Hamilton, described by Andy Thompson post game as the X-Factor of the Royals, was kept relatively quiet and that is a testament to how well the Riders planned and executed on Sunday.
The Riders were led in scoring by game MVP Tim Williams, who finished with 20-10-3 and showed off just why the Riders brought him in midway through the season. He was able to help manage Matthew Bryan-Amaning well enough (19-6-2) whilst getting his own buckets and making the difficult look ordinary.
The moment of the game went to Ashley Hamilton. The Royals forward threw down a monster dunk in the second quarter to bring the o2 to it’s feet and looked to swing momentum the way of the Royals. In the end it wasn’t to be, but in Hamilton the Royals have a real star moving forward.
The Riders were written off by many heading into today’s contest, but they have shown, once again, why they are still the top side in British Basketball. Their coaching, preparation and execution for the playoffs and this fixture were all excellent and Rob Paternostro is still more than capable of being the X-Factor for the Riders.