BBL Cup Final
Leicester Riders 71-79 London Lions (16-21, 32-41, 50-64)
(Riders: Jackson, 16; Whelan, 15; Mackenzie, 14 — Lions: Dekker, 22; Koufos, 14; Nelson, 11)
London Lions lifted the BBL Cup with a 79-71 victory over Leicester Riders in front of a sell-out crowd at the Utilita Arena in Birmingham on Sunday.
Looking comfortable going into the final quarter, London were all of a sudden bombarded by a spirited Riders outfit as last season’s Cup winners staged a fightback thanks to a 10-0 run.
Lions needed someone to steady the ship and that man was Sam Dekker, who hit the first six points of the fourth for his side, settling the nerves and guiding them to victory.
For Dekker, he also scooped MVP honours with a game-high 22 points and nine rebounds in front of a crowd that included several social media influencers and footballer Troy Deeney.
“This is step one for us,” he said afterwards. “It’s an important one but we got to stay consistent now. We’ll celebrate this as we wanted to win this and we have achieved it. It’s a great feeling.”
On the overall occasion, Dekker added: “For me, playing in Russia, Turkey, I’ve played in some great venues and this final was definitely up there in terms of atmosphere and intensity. It’s great for basketball in Britain and I’m happy to be part of it.”
“It was exciting for us,” Lions coach Ryan Schmidt said.
“We talked from day one about what we’re doing is not easy and we have a brand new team, playing in the EuroCup, you see the roster we have put together, the expectations are high from the get go.”
Schmidt added: “Anytime you have an opportunity to win a championship, it’s special. It doesn’t happen all the time and hats off to Leicester, we have nothing but respect for these guys.”
Zach Jackson paced Riders with 16 points.
From the opening tip, Leicester looked to get under the skin of the Lions players and drew early fouls from Dekker and Luke Nelson within the opening minute.
Six early points from Kimbal Mackenzie kept the Riders ticking but London managed to keep their noses in front, using a balanced scoring rotation led by Aaron Best, who hit a fadeaway from the corner to give his side a 13-8 cushion.
The Lions had weathered the storm in regards to foul trouble and offensively they were getting to their spots for easy scores en route to a 21-16 lead after one.
And in the early stages of the second quarter, London secured their first double-digit lead thanks to Ovie Soko. When Kosta Koufos restored their ten-point cushion at 28-18, Riders coach Rob Paternostro called a timeout.
The action was physical, heated – typical for a Cup Final – with neither team giving an inch.
Back-to-back scores from Dekker pushed the Lions’ advantage to 37-26 until Mackenzie again responded for Leicester in a frantic back-and-forth spell of basketball.
However, as time wound down to end the half, Jordan Taylor hit a fadeaway jumper to give the Lions a 41-32 cushion.
Patrick Whelan narrowed the gap for Leicester to 41-34 at the start of the third, as he absorbed the contact to lay it home, only for Dekker to hit back with his fourth three-pointer of the contest.
And for Leicester’s efforts in the opening stages, London did the same and got the Riders in foul trouble, which they took advantage of – an 8-1 run handed them a 52-39 cushion.
The Riders, winners of this competition last season, were not about to let the trophy slip from their grasp easily and reduced the deficit to 56-46 thanks to a triple from Zach Jackson.
But London were relentless towards the end of the third, with Soko at the heart of everything at both ends, giving them a 14-point lead heading into the final quarter.
No strangers to adversity and fighting back from the jaws of defeat, Leicester started the final quarter with a 10-0 run, roared on tremendously by the Riders support, which intensified when Soko fouled out with three minutes played.
However, cometh the hour, cometh the man: Dekker got his side going when London’s backs were against the wall – he scored Lions first six points to give them a 70-64 advantage with 3:35 left.
The last 90 seconds were all about the little things. Drawing fouls, making foul shots count and diving for loose ball.
And it was the Lions who took advantage of their chances with a one-handed slam from Dekker – the dagger for the Riders as the side from the capital lifted the first piece of silverware this season.