BBL Play-Off, semi-final (2nd leg)
Cheshire Phoenix (155) 81-102 (184) London Lions (16-26, 32-58, 59-81)
(Phoenix: Jack, 34; Archibald, 14; Anderson/Ulph, 9 – Lions: Best/Sharma, 16; Taylor/Ward-Hibbert, 14; Oni, 13)
London Lions will meet familiar foe, the Leicester Riders in the BBL play-off finals after dismissing the brave challenge of the Cheshire Phoenix 102-81 in their semi-final, second leg in Ellesmere Port on Bank Holiday Monday.
An aerial threat on the attack and defence, Josh Sharma was simply electric for London, finishing with 16 points, six rebounds, and three big-time blocks.
But not just Sharma, it was a team effort, something that head coach Ryan Schmidt emphasised the importance of getting early momentum, after the league leaders entered the game with a slim eight-point lead, on aggregate.
Cheshire got off to a good start, with Amorie Archibald setting up attacking centrepieces Larry Austin Jr. and Maceo Jack for a handful of early points.
However, London’s Jordan Taylor and Tomislav Zubcic quickly replied with some impressive shots of their own.
A number of lead changes in the opening minutes to the contest made for an exciting matchup, but the Lions soon began to pull away.
Capitalising with intensity, Lions guard Aaron Best did a fantastic job of pushing the ball up, drawing the Phoenix defenders in, before setting up Luke Nelson for a wide-open shot from the wing, that left London finishing with a double-figure lead, 26-16.
The second quarter saw the Lions run riot, with Josh Ward-Hibbert banking home a three in mere seconds of play.
London’s full-court defence proved too much for Cheshire, who were forced to take heavily contested shots, with Sharma contributing both blocks and scoring down low to assist the Lions to a 26-point lead by halftime.
Despite the deficit, Jack had a standout performance, amassing 13 of his game-high 34 points in the third quarter, successfully scoring from all areas of the floor, while David Ulph pulled off a highlight-worthy dunk inside the paint.
The Phoenix flipped a switch during the third quarter, but London’s enduring defensive pressure and perimeter shooting, with Miye Oni chalking a pair of threes before the buzzer, kept London firmly on top, 59-81.
The visitors’ continued pressure enabled them to steer to victory, with a showstopping Sharma dunk putting the cherry on top for London, finishing the game out by surpassing 100 points.
London Lions will face the Leicester Riders for a second consecutive year in the league Finals; their third straight Finals appearance.