Leicester Riders 72-55 (162-126) London Lions

The London Lions’ season came to an end on Sunday with defeat at the Leicester Riders in the play-off semi-finals.

The Lions already faced an uphill battle in trying to recover the Riders’ 71-90 1st leg lead and suffered a fatal blow as one of their starters, Navid Niktash, could only watch on from the sideline due to food poisoning. That meant Andre Lockhart was promoted to the starting line-up and Alex Owumi moved to the front court.

It wasn’t a pretty start and it took until almost the mid-point of the 1st quarter for the Lions to get their first points from the floor.

In a repeat of Friday’s 1st leg, Riders captain Tyler Bernardini had to sit down, incensed at receiving 2 personal fouls, only for the Lions to suffer the same fate with their leading player, Rashad Hassan.

Owumi got the Lions into it following an 8-0 run and an anxious home crowd were baying for the referees to give them a leg up in putting this tie to bed early on.

It ended up with the Lions ahead by 4 on the night, down 15 on aggregate, and close to keeping pace for the comeback. However, in truth, it was a scrappy 1st quarter and the Lions were some way off looking like they were going to take command.

The Lions peaked with their biggest lead of 8 early in the 2nd before a frustrating run of fouls and missed shots saw the Riders tie the game.

The Lions went ahead again but it was another low-scoring quarter which suited the Riders, who wouldn’t have wanted to see an open game allow a breakaway run to happen.

Q2 ended 16-13 in the home side’s favour, meaning the Lions were just 1 point closer than where they left it on Friday night.

If there’s been a story told too often this season it’s the London Lions’ 3rd quarter struggles, and so it was to play out one last time. The Lions shot 4-18 in the period while the Raiders went 9-16 from the floor and, with that, what faint hope the Lions might have had of making a late surge was wiped out entirely by the 26-10 quarter that gave the Riders a 34-point overall lead.

The game was up and the players knew it, but the Lions were able to outscore the home side early in the 4th quarter to bring it down to a 10-point scoreline on the night. However, there wouldn’t even be a Pyrrhic victory at the Leicester Arena as the Riders made three 3s down the stretch and their lead crept up again to 17 points and they celebrated their place in the season finale.

It was always going to be a longshot for the Lions to overturn a 19-point deficit, especially on the league champions’ home court, but to do so without a full strength roster was the nail in the coffin. The depth of the Riders bench showed when they pulled them through the 1st leg, so taking them on with only 7 senior players was a near-impossible task.

No minutes from Niktash and just 16 from Hassan left the Lions lacking a threat in the post so there would be no easy buckets on a night where they really needed to get their scoring going. 29% from the field and 3/23 from beyond the arc (13%), along with just 11 team assists, shows how hard going it was on offence.

It will be 1st vs 2nd in the final on Sunday as the Riders progress to face the Newcastle Eagles. In the past four years, the eventual play-off winners have defeated the Lions on their path to victory: the Riders did so in the quarter-finals in 2013, Worcester Wolves in the quarter-finals in 2014, the Eagles in the 2015 final, and the Sheffield Sharks in last year’s quarter-finals. Those at the O2 on Sunday or tuning in to the BBC await to see if the same happens once more.

For the Lions, it’s now 3 months off until an exhibition game against the University of Rhode Island to be played at London City University on 10th August and then participation in the All-Stars Championship at the O2 on 24th September.

Box Score

About Andy 106 Articles
London Lions season ticket holder and frequent away follower. Also followed my football team up and down the country and the leagues for 20 years. Sixers fan but sadly from afar.

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