It’s fitting that the British Basketball League’s final showdown of the season will be between the top two sides on the grandest stage in the British game.
And even though previous results this have season have only gone one way, this is a game where the stakes could not be higher.
The London Lions and Leicester Riders have thrilled sell-out arenas all season long, and on Sunday, they meet for the sixth – and final time – in the Play-off final at the iconic O2 Arena in a rematch of last year’s thriller.
The two sides have met five times this season, with the Lions claiming all five victories – one of those coming in January’s Cup final in Birmingham – but since their last loss to London on 7 April, Leicester have been desperate for another shot.
The Riders have won four out of their last five Championship games, showing great character and flair in those wins, fighting back from the jaws of defeat and wowing crowds with clinical team basketball under the guise of Rob Paternostro.
During the Play-offs, Leicester saw off the B. Braun Sheffield Sharks and Bristol Flyers with crucial performances across the board from Marc Loving, Zach Jackson and Kimbal MacKenzie.
The trio have been vital components in the post-season run, with Loving averaging 11.2 points and 5.7 rebounds, Jackson going for 14.5 points and 8.7 rebounds, with MacKenzie posting 12.2 points and 2.2 assists in those four games.
They come up against a Lions side aiming for the domestic treble as the side who are without question the hottest team in the British Basketball League, form-wise, right now.
Securing the Championship trophy with six games to spare and winning five of those last six games, the Lions answered any questions about whether Ed Percival BBL Coach of the Year Ryan Schmidt and his side would take their foot off the gas pedal in the build-up to the Play-offs quite emphatically.
In the post-season, the Lions have been ruthless, dismissing the Newcastle Eagles and Cheshire Phoenix, winning all four games with an average of 18.0 points and all with superstar Sam Dekker playing almost a cameo role as he now recovers from successful ankle surgery, ruling him out of Sunday’s game.
Dekker aside, the Lions have a plethora of talent at their disposal, and it’s been showcased in the four Play-off games with Josh Sharma, Aaron Best, Tomislav Zubcic and Jordan Taylor as particular standouts.
Loving vs Zubcic: The battle of the versatile forwards
Two forwards with a strong inside-outside game will be keys for their respective sides on Sunday.
Marc Loving has been an unsung hero for the Riders this season as his 53.9% from inside the arc is complimented by a respectable 35% from three-point land, averaging a team-high 15.9 points in the Championship.
Zubcic plays a similar role to Loving for London, a veteran of big-game stages in his playing career, the former Basketball Champions League standout and 2012 NBA Draft pick has averaged 12.3 points this season and 12.2 points in the play-offs, shooting a sublime 61.6% from two-point land and 36.8% from beyond the arc.
For their size, loving at 6’7’ and Zubcic at nearly seven feet, both players have tremendous off-ball movement and can create their own shot while possessing crafty footwork and body control to make room under the basket; it will make for an exciting battle.
Player | Aaron Best | Zach Jackson
PPG | 11.9 | 15.8
RPG | 2.8 | 5.5
APG | 2.3 | 1.9
The London Lions’ Aaron Best and Leicester Riders’ Zach Jackson have shown that they can change a game at any given moment with their dead-eye shooting as well as tenacious defence that motivates their team-mates on the court and overall winning mentality.
Canadian international Best has shot a scintillating 43.9% from three-point land, impressing the Lions fans from all areas of the court this season, while Jackson hasn’t been far behind, going 40% from behind the arc.
No question that these two will be pivotal for their respective clubs on Sunday.
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